Friday, May 31, 2013

Top 10 Parent/Child Acting Combos

In the wake of Will Smith starring alongside his son, Jaden, in the new flick After Earth, I got to thinking: what are the best instances of parents acting with their children?  I hope you dig my picks, and because there are many combos to choose from, make sure to tell me your favorites in the comments.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Hunt

“It’s always assumed that children tell the truth. And unfortunately, very often they do.”

These two sentences are the central, terrifying theme of the Danish film, The Hunt. They are spoken midway through the picture, long after we, the audience, know the truth. Long after characters’ lives have been damaged due to fractured truth and irrevocable heresy. They are spoken after we know so much, yet have no idea what’s coming.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

In Character: James Woods

James Woods works. A lot. In the 40 plus years he’s been acting, he’s delivered more than 60 roles in feature films, many to notable critical acclaim. He’s also a staple on television, lending his talent to numerous made-for-TV movies, which are, again, often met with significant adoration. Thankfully, in real life, Woods is nothing like the elitist, antagonistic, assholish characters he plays so perfectly. By all accounts, he’s a genuinely good guy who doesn’t let age or type casting get in the way of his craft. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Top 10 English-speaking Movies that Require Subtitles

Whether movie characters talk fast or have insanely thick accents (or both), sometimes subtitles work better for films, even when they’re speaking your language. And make no mistake, I love each of the films below, I’m just having a little fun with their difficult vernacular.

And believe me, I know I’m a silly American who can’t decipher certain foreign dialects. Fair enough. But mockery aside, make sure to tell me some films you have trouble with.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Behind the Candelabra

Something hit me in Behind the Candelabra. It was during a scene of little importance, just a few men walking into a room and looking around. This wasn’t an epiphany, as I’ve discussed it many times before, but during the scene, I was reminded that Steven Soderbergh knows what to do.

He knows precisely what to do with his camera while a few men walk into a room and look around. He knows what to do when one of his characters is binging hard on cocaine. He knows what film stock to use, or what digital camera to shoot with. He knows what filter to apply, what composition to implore, what audio track to highlight. He knows when to tell his story straight, or jump around playfully. Above all, Steven Soderbergh knows how to make a film. He’s a master craftsman whose work in the medium has forever changed it. Which makes it all the sadder that we’re now forced to bid him farewell.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Top 10 Steven Soderbergh Films

A sad day for movie lovers everywhere as tonight marks the final time Steven Soderbergh will ever release a new film. Or so he says. Since the disastrous making and distribution of Che, Soderbergh has promised that in five years time, he would retire from the world of feature filmmaking. Well, the years have passed, and it looks as though one of my favorite directors is sticking to his word.

Before HBO airs his Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra (which has been getting rave reviews out of Cannes), here’s a look back at the 10 Soderbergh films that have stuck with me most. I’ll admit, the list may seem a tad unorthodox, but that’s a pretty accurate word to describe Soderbergh’s entire career. Here’s to hoping Soderbergh is a man of weak will, as I truly don’t think contemporary cinema will be the same without him.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

28 Hotel Rooms

The tiny independent romance film, 28 Hotel Rooms, begins with two people going at it. Hard. They’re standing upright, pressed against a wall in an anonymous hotel room in an anonymous city. He tells her to lift her leg. She does. Cut to black. Cue credits. And we’re off and running.

The concept of 28 Hotel Room is so simple, it teeters dangerously at being too modest. Before every scene, a title card tells us what room we’re in. The scene plays out. Cut to black, title card, scene, repeat. With the exception of a few background extras, the couple on screen (played with physical fearlessness and emotional conviction by Marin Ireland and Chris Messina) are the only people in the film. We only see them in hotel rooms, and we never learn much about them, including their names. They met by chance in a hotel bar (twice) and soon form a relationship based on same-city sex. As in, when they both happen to be at the same place at the same time, maybe they’ll get together and hook up.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Top 10 Movies Booed at Cannes

Earlier today, the Ryan Gosling-starring, Nicolas Winding Refn-directed Only God Forgives screened at the Cannes Film Festival and was swiftly met with critical revulsion. Immediate reports indicated that the film closed with many boos and cackles from those in attendance.

For me, this is as significant as it is insignificant. First, I’m excited about Only God Forgives. Its neon-noir trailer appears to be a worthy follow-up to Drive, Gosling and Refn’s last film together. So, while the Cannes boos give me trepidation, I know by now not to let them phase me too much. Don’t let boos and early criticism throw you off, the 10 flicks below braved the taunts and came out on top.

In Character: Melanie Lynskey

I’m not sure when my profound fascination with Melanie Lynskey took hold. But right around the time I saw her dance on stage with perfect sadness in Sam Mendes’ Away We Go, I knew this was an actress worth seeking out. Since that film, I’ve made it a point to see anything Lynskey appears in. And here’s what I’ve learned: no matter how small the performance, there’s no film Lynskey cannot elevate. No script she cannot heighten. No role she cannot perfect. I truly think she’s one of the best, most underrated talents working in movies today. Here’s why.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Top 10 Found Footage Films

I typically try to avoid found footage flicks at all cost, but occasionally, I find one worth mentioning. And while the found footage genre is mostly limited to horror films (and mostly awful ones at that) many decent films in many different genres have used the narrative device. Whether they scare, shock or fascinate, these 10 found footage flicks get it right.

Head to Movie Mezzanine to view the full list

Monday, May 20, 2013

Top 10 Movies People are Surprised I Love

One of the biggest challenges I face as a film fanatic is convincing people that I’m not a movie snob. And yeah, while I’d prefer to watch a Swedish film from the ‘60s, than a blockbuster from 2013, I can like anything. I don’t like everything, but I can like anything. It just has to be something that tests, inspires or motivates me.

When I tell people how much I genuinely appreciate the films below, they think I’m being sarcastic. But it’s the truth. While they may not be the most critically acclaimed or commercially successful films, I love them all the same. Seriously.

Friday, May 17, 2013

My Favorite Scene: There Will Be Blood

When I was in journalism school, I had to take an entire course about how to own a conversation. I was taught how to provoke an interviewee – entice them with questions, amuse them with facts, flatter them with confidence – all in an effort to keep the conversation in my favor. If I wanted the interviewee to be more open, I learned how to shift my body language to become more presentable. Tone, cadence, choice of words, it’s all part of the game. Even if I wasn’t interested in what the interviewee was saying, I learned how to make them the most important person in the room. After all, journalism is a business, and I was taught how to sell myself effectively.

I mention all this because it is exactly the skill Daniel Plainview possesses so effortlessly. No matter who he is talking to or what he is talking about, Daniel completely controls the conversation, and always gets what he wants. Now, whether he does this through flattery or intimidation, the fact is that Daniel Plainview is one hell of a salesman.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Top 10 Movies about Movies

I love movies about movies. I love imagining that the only way directors who have been slighted by Hollywood can seek revenge is by making a movie about being slighted by Hollywood. Now, although some of the films below have been criticized for being too Hollywood insider, that is precisely why I love them. The specific lingo, the exaggerated self-entitlement – when done well, it can be wholly amusing.

Note: This list is mostly concerned with the on-set aspect of filmmaking. Movies about screenwriters (Adaptation, Barton Fink…) were not considered.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

In Character: Udo Kier

I don’t know what I love more about Udo Kier, the fact that he has one of the best, most recognizable faces in cinematic history, or that, with more than 200 roles to his name, he manages to make most all of them memorable. Whether it’s big budgets, tiny indies, cult sensations, or iconic classics, no role is too big (or, more importantly) too small for Kier to own.

It’s funny, although Udo Kier is often typecast as The Foreboding German Man, there’s an eclectic variety to his body of work that I find immensely appealing. Now, although I am a fan of Kier’s work, I certainly haven’t seen everything he’s done (hell… has anyone?). The roles below are simply my favorites of the ones I’ve seen. As always, feel free to share some of your preferred Udo Kier characters in the comments.

Michael (2011)

When best of the year lists started appearing in late 2012, I noticed Markus Schleinzer’s Austrian film, Michael, pop up occasionally. Upon reading a brief plot synopsis, I was curious. I was curious to see how a movie about a man who keeps a 10-year-old boy locked in his basement could actually be something people wanted to watch. I was curious how such a seemingly difficult film was considered for the Cannes Palme d’Or. I was curious, but not entirely motivated. In short, I knew enough to know I didn’t want to go there. But one early morning last week, I decided to watch Michael and brave what lie ahead.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Top 15 Baffling Things About the AFI Lists

I have an in-no-way-constructive hobby of seriously hating on the American Film Institutes’ various Top 100 lists. Their initial 100 Years…100 Movies list from 1998 was decent enough – a fine collection of American films with pretty solid rankings. But in the subsequent decade, AFI released a different list every year, which resulted in their laughable 100 Years…100 Movies update in 2008. Here are a few things I’ve never been able to understand about AFI’s lists. Be sure to check out all of their lists here, then come back and tell me what you find most baffling.

Head over to Movie Mezzanine to view the full list

Monday, May 13, 2013

the Directors: William Friedkin

There’s an unevenness to William Friedkin’s career that I find fascinating. By his own admission, the man has made some pretty bad films. But he’s also responsible for some of the most noted classics in film history. It’s such a bold dichotomy of great vs. crap that I can’t help but be intrigued.

As of late, Friedkin has gone through a kind of impromptu transformation, redefining his career with daring pictures that stay ingrained in your mind, for better or worse.

In addition to his work on screen, Friedkin has always been frank about discussing his own career. He’s quick to point out his failures, his successes, and his lasting frustrations. I respect the hell out of his frankness, which, thankfully, is a trait that manages to bleed into much of his work.

Friday, May 10, 2013

My Top 10 Film Endings (that everyone else hates)

The list below is a rare one for me, if for no other reason than every film is a recent one. And I probably have the Internet to thank for that. With the emergence of social media and blogging, it’s become a lot easier to discover which films are hated and which are appreciated. For whatever reason, I am utterly drawn to the endings of the films listed below, while many people are not.

And I’m certainly not trying to be presumptuous (if you do like some of the listed endings then, well, yay!), but for the most part, people seem to detest how these 10 films conclude.

As the title may indicate, this list contains a series of spoilers. Feel free to skip over the ones you haven’t seen, and remember to tell me which film endings you find yourself consistently defending.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

In Character: Amy Ryan

Indie darling Amy Ryan has it all, even though I’m guilty of often forgetting that. Because of the way she carries herself in real life – with kindness, gratitude and earnest thanks – I tend to forget the power of her range. Despite her seemingly delicate figure and timid demeanor, Ryan is a perfect storm of fury, enchantment and desperation. She may be known best for playing nice, but this woman can do it all. The six roles below highlight just that: an impeccable range of talent from one of the most unsuspectingly powerful character actors in the game.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Jeff Nichols makes films about lower class American people stuck in tumultuous situations. He roots in his films in truth, lets his camera gently eavesdrop on the story, and asks his actors to immerse themselves in the world he creates. Nichols’ first feature, the Malick-esque Shotgun Stories, chronicles a feud between two families in constant battle over the father who raised them all. His fever dream of a film, Take Shelter, is a haunting depiction of a man slowly losing touch with reality. And now we’re presented with Mud, an eerie southern tale of innocence lost and adolescent confusion.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Full Interview with Christopher McDonald

Christopher McDonald and I in New York City
Last September, I dedicated one of my In Character posts to the remarkably versatile character actor Christopher McDonald (read that post here). As luck would have it, McDonald’s publicist found my article, and we developed a nice rapport, which resulted in me being given the opportunity to interview McDonald in person.

I met McDonald (or Chris, as he warmly asked me to call him) on West 44th Street in New York City, minutes after the conclusion of the evening performance of Lucky Guy, the Broadway show penned by Nora Ephron and starring Tom Hanks and McDonald. Lucky Guy tells the true story of Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Daily News columnist Mike McAlary. In the show, McDonald plays a fast talking lawyer who negotiates McAlary’s contract for several years. It’s the kind of scenery-chewing Christopher McDonald character I absolutely love, one that immediately evokes applause as McDonald takes the stage.

So, with people shouting “Shooter” at him in the street, Chris and I ducked into a nearby restaurant to discuss his acting process, the roles he holds most dear, and the importance of chasing after what you want most.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Upstream Color

Last night I sat utterly entranced and engulfed by Shane Carruth’s tiny indie film fever dream, Upstream Color. Much like Carruth’s first and only other feature film, the cult sensation Primer, Upstream Color forces you to sit down, buckle up, and enjoy the ride. There’s no explanation, no certainly, no familiarity – Carruth immerses the audience in a state of reinvigoration. There’s nothing like Upstream Color. If the film were a court case, its lawyers would fail to argue its point, because there’s simply no precedent for it.

To describe the plot of the film would be to damage the central appeal of this work of art. How do you describe something you don’t merely observe, but rather, experience? It’s possible, sure, but not nearly as fun as encouraging people to become exposed to it themselves.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Upcoming Christopher McDonald Interview

This evening, I’ve been given the opportunity to do something I’ve always dreamed of doing: interviewing an actor I admire greatly.

After publishing my Margo Martindale In Character piece, Martindale’s publicist contacted me to thank me for drawing attention to her client. The publicist and I got to talking and it turns out I’ve covered a number of her clients (including Christopher McDonald) through In Character. Who knew?
And now, after several fruitful discussions, I’m traveling to New York City to interview Christopher McDonald on Broadway, where he is currently featured in the Tom Hanks-starring, Nora Ephron-penned Lucky Guy. Needless to say, I am thrilled for this opportunity, and I wanted to check with you, my lovely readers: anything you’d like me to ask Christopher McDonald?