Saturday, January 1, 2011
Rabbit Hole (2010) ****1/2
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Rabbit Hole (2010)- What a surprise departure for Mitchell! Tricky subject matter handled with a great deal of acumen. ****1/2 of 5
In order to avoid being pigeonholed as a certain "type" of filmmaker, it might prove wise for an up and coming director to accept a project completely outside of his comfort zone. Not only is it helpful for one's reputation, but it also might help strengthen one's abilities as well, forcing a relatively new director to think in ways and tackle problems he hasn't come across in his career thus far. Though he's been around long enough that no one considers him "up and coming" anymore, M. Night Shyamalan did something similar this year by directing a live action 3D adaptation of a kids cartoon show instead of a Hitchcockian psychological thriller with a glimpse of the supernatural often coming by way of a "wow" moment at the end. It's always important to credit risk taking in Hollywood, but by most accounts, The Last Airbender proved to be a colossal disaster, with many critics claiming that Shyamalan was playing completely against his strength of masterfully suggesting the presence of the unseen by trying to tackle an action epic using CGI to emphasize candid visuals.
Therefore, one must choose his or her projects carefully. Rabbit Hole is John Cameron Mitchell's third film, and it couldn't be more different than his first two--2001's Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a glam fest about a transsexual punk rocker, and 2006's Shortbus, a humorous comment on society by showcasing graphic real sex. Instead of another visually striking film for a niche audience, Mitchell chose as his next project to tackle an adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire's very low key stage play about a couple dealing with the grief of the sudden death of their four year old son. Adding another difficult layer is the fact that we join the couple eight months after the tragedy, so we're restricted from the sort of explosive emotions one might expect immediately following something so harrowing.
Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play Becca and Howie who are clearly not doing well at all. Becca has become quite cynical and even downright cruel at times, which we see almost immediately when Becca berates another grieving couple for positing that God needed another angel in heaven in order to give some meaning to something beyond explanation. Becca is the last to learn that her sister is pregnant. This coupled with her mother's insistence on comparing Becca's son's death with the death of Becca's brother who was a thirty year old heroin addict when he died makes family interactions unbearable for her, and too often they don't end well.
Howie, on the other hand, is all-too-eager to try and take that next step, though his nightly ritual of watching a video of his son might be holding him back. He resents Becca for trying to erase evidence of his existence, at least that's how he sees it. He's even open to having another child, and after making the first romantic gesture towards her in eight months, she rejects him outright. As they grow apart, he connects with a woman from group therapy, played by Sandra Oh, whose husband just left her. They smoke pot nightly and clearly she would be willing to accept him romantically if he ever decides to pursue it.
Becca meanwhile has her own peculiar way of dealing with her feelings. She follows the school bus of the high school student who caused her son's death by accidentally hitting him with his car. Eventually, the two sit down for a conversation in a public park, which leads to an odd camaraderie between them. He shows her the comic book that he's working on called Rabbit Hole about parallel universes where everyone exists as themselves except by living lives different than they are in the real world. Becca finds this comforting.
Howie and Becca drift farther from each other with their dishonesty. Clearly, their son's death is either going to break them apart completely or somehow bring them together. Sadly, the odds are stacked against them. Either way, though, both have to figure out how to make it through each unbearably difficult day to the next one after that.
Rabbit Hole is not dealing with new material at all. If you want to watch a movie about a couple grieving the loss of a child, simply turn on the Lifetime Movie Channel and you're guaranteed to find something that day which is aiming to jerk the tears out of your eyes. Yet, Rabbit Hole is much smarter than that. This couple's struggle is thankfully foreign to most of us, and there is a place for heightened emotions and hyper-real dialogue within such a cruel tragedy. At the same time, there needs to be truthful insight or else we're left with just another manipulative manufactured weepfest.
Lindsay-Abaire wrote the screenplay himself, and he's able to keep us not only believing the struggles of our main characters, but also totally invested as well. We're presented with situations that are sort of expected but don't always play out in the most obvious ways. Take Becca's encounter with the high school kid named Jason, played by newcomer Miles Teller. Most people in Becca's situation probably wouldn't do what she did, but when the two are talking, the exchange feels very real, yet it still contains some mystery and intrigue. Is he taking the place of her son in her mind? Is she trying but not capable of forgiving him? Is she there simply to try and get answers to questions that really have no answers? There's not a single moment in Rabbit Hole where an actor does something totally unbelievable. Expectations are confounded, but never in a way that destroys believability altogether. This is tricky to do, especially considering how much we've seen this material in film and on television in the past.
Of course, perhaps the key to truth with this material lies with the performances. Aaron Eckhart has the more straightforward role of a man who wears his struggles on his sleeve. Eckhart, a fine actor, is certainly up for the challenge even if his performance isn't as compelling as Kidman's. Not only is Kidman one of the most talented actresses working today, but she's also one of the bravest, not afraid to take on projects with some of the most off-beat directors like Noah Baumbach and Lars von Trier. As a one-time gossip magazine staple, Kidman has proven over and over again that she's more than a pretty face. Here she gives one of her best performances as a woman on the verge of martial and personal destruction. She's cold to those around her, and yet she projects her struggles in her performance so well that we do warm to her at first through pity and later through respect. Granted, Kidman's accent work is a little bit questionable at times, but it's forgivable especially considering how good she is otherwise.
There's also a solid supporting cast including Diane Wiest as Becca's less sophisticated yet caring mother, Tammy Blanchard as her rough around the edges pregnant sister Izzy as well as the aforementioned Sandra Oh and Miles Teller. Mitchell's direction, though far from flashy, provides a texture which further helps to elevate this material beyond movie of the week pablum. The way he focuses on his actors' faces in just the right ways at just the right moments shows that he doesn't need visual flamboyance as a crutch for his talent behind the camera. Mitchell is one of the best directors working today. One only needs to watch all three disparate film to see this.
Kudos to John Cameron Mitchell and everyone involved for a wonderfully surprising, emotionally satisfying character study. The risk was well worth it. M. Night Shyamalan, on the other hand...well, I'll continue to root for you in the future.
The Sound of Music (1965)- How do you solve a problem like a sugar sweet screenplay? Fantastic direction and amazing music. ****1/2 of 5
Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Suss (2010)- Fascinating doc about a family's Nazi filmmaker patriarch & shame of Nazi descendants. **** of 5
Peeping Tom (1960)- Macabre and unsettling look at the logical extremes of voyeurism. There's a lot of today in this film. ****1/2 of 5
The Fighter (2010)- Story about as generic as the film's title. Russel's direction doesn't live up to the talent on screen. Good film. ***/5
127 Hours (2010)- Pretty damn amazing. Maybe the most intense film I've seen in the last few years. ***** out of 5
The King's Speech (2010)- Flawed, but a refreshingly humble telling of importance & accomplishment. Solid acting. **** out of 5
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)- Two lead performances make this B-level trash fest worth seeing. Sunset Blvd-lite. *** out of 5
Paris 36 (2009)- A wonderfully rich story with likable characters. Visually stunning. Historical metaphor doesn't quite work though. ****/5
A Christmas Carol (2009)- Classic story told well, but technology still washes out emotions. Too many chase sequences for Dickens. *** of 5
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010)- Nothing too novel, but Rivers is a fascinating genius/circus freak. Smart film making. ***1/2 out of 5
Black Swan (2010)- Not as much burrowing under the surface as under Ms Portman's skin. Impressive telling of a preposterous tale ***1/2 of 5
(Untitled) (2009)- Well-acted with some great laughs, but it never really rises above the intellectual-lite that it parodies. *** out of 5
Afterschool (2009)- Despite jejune moments and a cynical naivety, there are enough thought provoking questions to carry this film. ***/5
Walt & El Grupo (2009)- Should have been a short doc. This story showcasing three months is languidly stretched out. **1/2 out of 5
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One (2010)- As an autonomous entity, this unpleasant film's narrative is bankrupt. ** out of 5
My Son My Son What Have Ye Done? (2009)- Parodies of Herzog cliches aside, this is a fascinating meditation on paranoia. ***1/2 of 5
Carlos (2010)- Epic, bloody and fascinating look at an insecure man's rise and fall as a terrorist. Ramirez=brilliant. 330 minutes fly by. *****/5
The Red Shoes (1948)- Good story. Transcendent ballet sequence. Visually one of the richest films I've seen. ****1/2 out of 5
Black Narcissus (1947)- A bit rushed and unfocused, but it's gorgeous, well-acted and truly disturbing. Burrows under the skin. **** of 5
Inception (2010)- (second viewing) Harder to follow when you don't exert much effort. DiCaprio's perf. even more impressive. ****1/2 of 5
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)- What a disappointment! Voice acting is stiff & the character animation is less than mediocre. **1/2 of 5
Me and Orson Welles (2009)- Pleasant enough and McKay's outstanding, but Efron's awful and the script lacks depth. *** out of 5
Never Let Me Go (2010)- Logan's Run meets Jane Austin... powerful, wonderfully acted philosophical cautionary tale. **** out of 5
The Town (2010)- Affleck's penchant for directing smart though totally predictable mainstream thrillers is fine by me. ***1/2 out of 5
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)- Beautiful and bizarre one of a kind look at law, love and England as only Powell/Press. can. ****1/2 of 5
Iron Man 2 (2010)- Slick, wise-cracking action romp...entertaining enough though overstuffed. Downey Jr's great as always. ***1/2 out of 5
The Killer Inside Me (2010)- Way too on the nose to really register, though Casey Affleck's performance is worth seeing. *** out of 5
The Social Network (2010)- Whip-smart...one of the most satisfying and entertaining movies I've seen. Brilliant script. ***** out of 5
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)- Dear Oliver Stone, Either calm down w/ the over-directing or make more substantial films. **1/2 of 5
That Evening Sun (2009)- Sentimental melodrama suffocates genuine moments of truth and insight. Good perfs. give it a pass. *** out of 5
Date Night (2010)- Has its moments, but this formula action-comedy is just a little too dumb to be considered successful. **1/2 out of 5
New York, I Love You (2009)- One good short does not make a good shorts collection. New York has never been so underutilized. ** out of 5
Breathless (1960)- Brilliant and effervescent glimpse at young people living in a grand city during a grand period of history ***** out of 5
Gigante (2009)- Red Road dealt with this material in a much darker and more interesting way. Still, this film is passable and moody. ***/5
True Grit (1969)- Wayne is just terrific in a wonderfully entertaining formula western. **** out of 5
Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)- Keeps up its energy until the end. Clever & fun but Cera's shtick hurts the film. ***1/2 of 5
The Square (2010)- Engaging and interesting Double Indemnity/Fargo knockoff. Perhaps a bit too serious for its own good. *** out of 5
Mother (2010)- Unsettling, suspenseful mystery/thriller that honors the turmoils of motherhood. Great opening & closing scenes. ****1/2 of 5
The Beaches of Agnes (2009)- Eclectic, eccentric & entertaining self-meditation of a cinema legend & creative genius. ****1/2 of 5
Beeswax (2009)- Funny, frustrating and dark, Bujalski's intriguing look at two passive twin sisters is solid mumblecore. **** out of 5
The Runaways (2010)- Adequate look at an explosive all-girl punk band that's not willing to get as down and dirty as it needs to. ***/5
High Plains Drifter (1973)- Savior for a town not worth saving--dark deconstructed Western dealing with familiar Eastwood themes. **** of 5
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)- You name it, this wonderful film deals w/ it--love, friendship, war, history, mortality. *****/5
A Face in the Crowd (1957)- Dark look at power corrupting a decent man. Solid performances. ****1/2 out of 5
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)- Rarely a wasted image in this most devastatingly beautiful treasure. Falconetti is perfect. ***** of 5
Edge of Darkness (2010)- a. gov't conspiracy thriller b. grieving father's descent into madness c. Ridiculous pablum --Answer- C. **1/2 of 5
Kick-Ass (2010)- I'm all about the fun, but this fanboy magnet is maybe the most mindless thing I've seen all year. ** out of 5
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)- Taut gangster epic leads into final act full of dull melodrama & overblown self-importance. ***1/2 of 5
Irma la Douce (1963)- Ending made me chuckle, but plot is preposterous & Lemmon's completely miscast--a mess of a film. **1/2 out of 5
Life During Wartime (2010)- Though a bit busy & too tethered to the logic of Happiness, this is an interesting look at guilt. ***1/2 of 5
Green Zone (2010)- Greengrass' direction is slick, but a comment on Iraq through an action flick? Stupid idea, stupid film. ** out of 5
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)- Charles Laughton is truly amazing in this fun, convoluted courtroom mystery. **** out of 5
Sabrina (1954)- Enjoyable enough, but I'm still waiting for Bogart's transformation to be believable. *** out of 5
The Kids Are All Right (2010)- Great performances in an astute look at the complexities of marriage. **** out of 5
Burma VJ (2009)- Impeccably well-crafted look at Burmese injustice as well as the reporters who risk their lives to show it ****1/2 out of 5
The Yes Men Fix the World (2009)- Call to action doc that's painfully uncomfortable. Unfocused activism but admirable intentions ***1/2 of 5
Pirate Radio (2009)- Interesting concept but executed poorly--cartoonish and not at all funny. Songs are too on the nose. **1/2 out of 5
Tokyo Sonata (2009)- Strange and beautiful look at a family/country that's not quite dealing with these difficult times. **** out of 5
A Town Called Panic (2009)- Plastic barnyard animals holding a mirror up to humanity's destruction. Hilarious yet brutally cynical. ****/5
The Song of Sparrows (2009)- Majidi's storytelling is naive and cheap. He's best with arresting visuals which are lacking here. ** out of 5
Inception (2010)- A wonderfully slick bit of entertainment not catering to stupid people, though it's far from perfect. ****1/2 out of 5
Cyrus (2010)- All the laugh out loud moments are at the service of a false, lazy and empty movie. **1/2 out of 5
The Maid (2009)- Fascinating oddity. Rich character study based on how the judgments of the viewer can be so wrong. ***** out of 5
Stalag 17 (1953)- Even with its annoying goofiness, Wilder's POW drama is a truly sad and great achievement. ****1/2 out of 5
Winter's Bone (2010)- Sense of place and the people living within is gold. The overly sensational plot doesn't quite match up. **** out of 5
Defamation (2009)- Well-judged, brave exploration into modern anti-Semitism and what's provoking it. ***1/2 out of 5
Everlasting Moments (2009)- Heiskanen is amazing as Maria in a compelling yet somewhat flimsily textured feminist tale. ***1/2 out of 5
Floating Weeds (1959)- Beautiful, simple story of tradition vs. modernization and what it means to belong to a family. ***** out of 5
American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein (2010)- Taut look at how a relevant voice can devolve into radicalism. **** out of 5
The Apartment (1960)- (second viewing) One of the great movies about loneliness ever made. ***** out of 5
Ballast (2009)- I'll keep embracing these poverty line neo-realist films as long as they hold onto their intimacy and humility. ***** of 5
Best Worst Movie (2010)- Surprisingly sweet, if a bit meandering, look at a modern cult classic. *** out of 5
Some Like It Hot (1959)- (second viewing) Even better than I remember. So tightly constructed, well-acted and hilarious. ***** out of 5
We Live in Public (2009)- I came to hate Joshua Harris. This film panders to the whim of a terrible person. Disturbing and infuriating. **/5
Flame and Citron (2009)- Gritty and compelling, though a bit overstuffed and self-serious. ***1/2 out of 5
Trucker (2009)- Painfully clunky dialogue in this predictable sapfest which isn't quite saved by some good performances. **1/2 out of 5
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (2009)- Justice is complex and so is Kunstler, a great and terrible man. Insightful. **** of 5
A Hard Day's Night (1964)- The Marx Brothers should have been proud of a cheeky self-effacing look at a cultural phenomenon. ***** out of 5
Toy Story 3 (2010)- Though it relies on too many jokes and sequences from the first two, this is still a wonderful movie! ****1/2 out of 5
Where the Wild Things Are (2009) (second viewing)- Holds up for multiple viewings. Brilliant, quirky look into coping methods of an angry young boy. ***** out of 5
The Book of Eli (2010)- What a pleasant surprise! One of the more satisfying popcorn movies I've seen. **** out of 5
Shutter Island (2010)- Saw the twist coming, but still I was satisfied by this atmospheric mystery/thriller. **** out of 5
Alice in Wonderland (2010)- Stale and technologically dull. Depp needs to calm down & Wasikowska needs to cheer up. **1/2 out of 5
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)- Slick, dark, entertaining noir with one of the trashiest and most audacious endings in all film. ***1/2 out of 5
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)- Works on every single level. Frustrating, funny, fascinating. Blows the mind. ***** out of 5
Please Give (2010)- Baumbach-lite...too often devoid of truth. Just barely enough genuine moments to make it watchable. *** out of 5
Tetro (2009)-Coppola's earned the right to be indulgent--sadly, he's not as clever and interesting as he thinks he is. **1/2 out of 5
Pressure Cooker (2009)- Simmers a bit but then comes to a boil when true talent becomes the main course. Inspiring. ***1/2 of 5
The Lady Eve (1941)- Convoluted and uneven, but Stanwick's amazing acting and some huge laughs make this comedy a classic. **** out of 5
Double Indemnity (1944)- The perfect film noir... sleazy, smokey and so very sexy. One of my all-time favorites. ***** out of 5
A Fistful of Dynamite (1971)- Kaboom!!! Then some crap about a revolution. Then more Kaboom!!! **1/2 out of 5
Blue Velvet (1986)-It's important every once in a while to pull back the perfect facade of this world to find a rotting severed ear. *****/5
The Princess Bride (1987)- One of those rare movies that gets funnier as it goes along. By the end, I was totally with it. ****1/2 of 5
The General (1926)- It's awe inspiring to see one of the true geniuses of cinema at his best. Among the greatest movies ever made.***** of 5
Amelie (2001)- A truly original life affirming gem with just the right amount of sadness to balance the idealism and joy within. ***** of 5
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)- Finally, a Sergio Leone western with a story as good as its style. Immensely satisfying. ***** of 5
His Girl Friday (1940)- Nonstop energy along with Rosalind Russell's brilliant acting help make this dark screwball comedy work. **** of 5
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010)- Novels take hours/days to read. Why inflexibly stuff EVERY DETAIL into 150 minutes? Absurd. ** of 5
Life of Brian (1979)- Anarchy of Monty Python doesn't fit well into a conventional narrative--still moments of pure genius. ***1/2 of 5
The Lost Weekend (1945)- I applaud its intentions and its unflinching commitment, but Reefer Madness-like camp weighs heavy. *** out of 5
The Secret in their Eyes- A film about a story within a novel. Novel's story is cheesy, but the film about it is sly and smart. ****1/2 of 5
Advise and Consent (1962)- Absorbing & intelligent. Perfectly captures what's (still) wrong with our government. ***** out of 5
For a Few Dollars More (1965)- Final act disappoints, but Leone's style is solidified. The result is slick and entertaining. ***1/2 of 5
The Good Heart- What the hell? Forget 3D. Here comes the 1D revolution. *1/2 out of 5
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)- Clunky & underwhelming...sorry to say, those words also apply to Ledger's performance **1/2 of 5
The Big Lebowski (1998)- Perfect blend of fully baked cinema with a peppering of acid flashbacks. Coens at their most audacious ****1/2 of 5
Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh (2009)- Amazing, well told story of a dynamic heroine. **** out of 5
A Fistful of Dollars (1964)- Solid practice run for a director that has better things in store. Simple & shallow yet cinematic. ***1/2 of 5
M (1931)- Someone better protect the children for sure, but we must be protected from the systemic flaws of the state. Amazing! ***** of 5
Black Dynamite (2009)- First ten minutes & last ten minutes are hilarious. Rest is hit & miss. All involved not on the same page ***1/2 of 5
The Damned United (2009)- A tricky film. Both too serious & surprisingly compelling at once. Love/hate relationship w/ Clough works. ****/5
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)- Dug Weitz's style, but mopey plot is short on action & tall on a romance I don't care about at all **1/2
The Secret of Kells- A fuzzy story and a blend of mostly 2D animation w/ a peppering of computer generated 3D make for an okay movie. ***/5
The Ghost Writer- A well-crafted beach read of a movie that's fun despite how shallow and at times ridiculous its plot is. *** of 5
Afghan Star (2009)- Putting aside its desire to be a competition show itself, this doc showcases a country's struggles w/ transition. ***/5
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009)- What a pretentious, overdirected, overwritten, sloppy mess of a film. Blech. *1/2 out of 5
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)- Overstuffed, sure, but I can't recall too many films that are so damn entertaining. ****1/2 out of 5
Greenberg- Brutally honest meditation on being 40. Baumbach's not afraid to be unlikable in his successful quest for truth. ****1/2 of 5
The Way We Get By (2009)-Honoring those who honor the troops. Potential for pulled focus never materializes. Solid & inspiring. ****1/2 of 5
Seraphine (2009)- Few loose threads are forgivable in one of the most beautifully tragic movies of the year. Moreau is amazing. ****1/2 of 5
Laura (1944)- Fun mystery. All the noir ingredients are there--convoluted plot, dangerous woman, conflicted protagonist. Classic. **** of 5
Serbis (2009)- Dares you not to look away. I didn't look away. I wish all the depravity actually added up to something. **1/2 out of 5
$9.99 (2009)- No reason for animation other than gimmick. Occasionally insightful but ultimately muddled. *** out of 5
The September Issue (2009)- Cutler's doc perfectly matches the self-serious/joyous vibe of the fashion industry. Refreshing. **** of 5
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)- Impeccably well-acted, fascinating courtroom drama. 160 minutes absolutely fly by. So entertaining. ****1/2 of 5
Heaven Can Wait (1943)- Found the final bookend a real letdown to an absolutely charming story imbued with the Lubitsch touch. **** out of 5
Chloe- Fatal Attraction meets Skin-a-max. I could write a better script after a lobotomy. Yet, Moore saves it from train wreck status. **/5
The Informant! (2009)- Well acted and sporadically entertaining, but this cynical look at one man's greed is tepid at best. *** out of 5
To Be or Not to Be (1942)- Convoluted and contrived, but the comedy is sublime and so is Carole Lombard. **** out of 5
Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)- Moore is a gifted filmmaker. Argument made well, which makes me beg Moore to stop the gimmicks. ***1/2 of 5
Everybody's Fine (2009)- Bit schmaltzy, fractured & self-serious, but I was ultimately won over by its heart and DeNiro's perf. ***1/2 of 5
The Boys Are Back (2009)- Not bad, though unseemly pangs of self-loathing in this simplistic drama based on a memoir. *** out of 5
A Prophet- The prison yard is a brutal place. Is the real world any easier? Unflinching, gritty tale of survival. Magical film. ***** of 5
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)- Stewart's stiff. Sullavan's shrill. Matuschek plot line works better than romance. *** out of 5
Jay McCarroll: Eleven Minutes (2009)- Hilarious Jay from Project Runway has turned into a dull, type-A automaton. Insightful but dull. **1/2
Climates (2006)- Compelling story & stellar direction, yet I'm not exactly sure what everything's supposed to add up to. ***1/2 out of 5
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)- Cute, sweet and imaginative. A bit timid exploring sadness in the world. ***1/2 out of 5
Porco Rosso (1992)- Not bad though Miyazaki's ode to old Hollywood contains muddled messages and a lazy ending. *** out of 5
Coco Before Chanel (2009)- One would think there's not a movie to be made from this woman's early life. Wrong. Wonderful. ****1/2 out of 5
The Last Station (2009)- Simplistic look at Tolstoy which ends up as little more than an excuse for excessive histrionics. **1/2 of 5
The Hurt Locker (2009) (Second viewing)- Such a good film w/ standout sequences. Still believe contrivances hold it back a bit. ****1/2 of 5
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002)- Devastatingly tender. Offers nostalgia that few movies can match. Nearly perfect. ***** out of 5
Cold Souls (2009)- Giamatti's fun to watch, but this is dull Charlie Kaufman-lite. **1/2 out of 5
Whip It (2009)- This is how I like my feel-good formulaic films--light, witty, charming and extremely well-acted. ***1/2 out of 5
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief- Cool special effects, but film gets very obnoxious and downright ludicrous. **1/2 of 5
Fish Tank- Though too sensational at times, Arnold's neo-realistic character study is effective and unsettling. ****1/2 out of 5
Princess Mononoke (1997)- A darker and more sincere Miyazaki. This is easily his most focused narrative. A wonderful film! ***** out of 5
Burden of Dreams (1982)- One of the great filmmaking documentaries showcasing one of the great filmmakers. ****1/2 out of 5
Ninotchka (1939)- The Lubitsch touch slightly dampened by tone shifts and political commentary that's just a bit heavy. ***1/2 out of 5
Loren Cass (2009)- Brutal experimental look at the sort of anger and meaninglessness that could lead to race riots. ****1/2 out of 5
Amreeka (2009)- Heart in the right place. Screenplay riddled with cliches. Too simplistic and predictable. **1/2 out of 5
No Impact Man (2009)- Self-serving? Who cares? One of the most inspirational and compelling docs of the year. ****1/2 out of 5
Brothers at War (2009)- Impressive troop access by a vain, insecure filmmaker. Doc is equally interesting and disappointing. **1/2 out of 5
Bright Star (2009)- Though buttoned-up and plodding, this historical romance proves that poetry can be cinematic. **** out of 5
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)- Not too much beyond its considerable camp value. *** out of 5
The Cove (2009)- Sincere & graphic activist doc which won me over despite its presentation of only one side of an argument. **** out of 5
The Seven Samurai (1954)- One of the purest examples of what movies are capable of--a complete masterpiece. ***** out of 5
Trouble in Paradise (1932)- Brutally smart and funny farce. Fantastic introduction to Lubitsch's dynamic direction. ***** out of 5
In the Mood for Love (2001)-Kar Wai's hypnotic direction elevates this steamy yet chaste noir to near perfection. ***** out of 5
Bandslam (2009)- With its feet planted firmly in the teen music film genre, this overlooked winner may be the best one yet. ***1/2 of 5
Medicine for Melancholy (2009)- Tedious hipster racial trope. Way too self-conscious & self-important for its own good. **1/2 out of 5
The Young Victoria (2009)- A modest and lovely look at a fascinating historical couple. Admittedly simple but satisfying. **** out of 5
Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)-Wonderfully magical and surprisingly inspirational without getting too treacly. ****1/2 out of 5
Sherlock Holmes (2009)- Downey Jr. & Law are the best of all else, especially Ritchie's bloated, literal, fratboyish direction. ** out of 5
It's Complicated (2009)- No, it's actually a bit simplistic, but that doesn't mean it's not really entertaining and satisfying. ***1/2 of 5
Crazy Heart (2009)- Bridges' performance overcomes a lackluster script and a subpar Maggie Gyllenhaal to offer a solid drama. ***1/2 of 5
It Might Get Loud (2009)- Disorganized, slightly self-important doc that showcases three random guitarists. Why these three? *** out of 5
Lorna's Silence (2009)- A dark, twisted, beautiful celebration of womanhood. ****1/2 out of 5
Jerichow (2009)- Passable blend of Double Indemnity and Days of Our Lives. *** out of 5
Play It Again, Sam (1972)- Here's looking at a great script, Kid. Here's also looking at an actor whose reach exceeds his grasp. ***1/2 of 5
Avatar (2009)- Great visual effects blah blah blah stupid story blah blah blah. *** out of 5
Big Fan (2009)-Such a smart, sad character study that's slightly hampered by an over-the-top plot. ***1/2
Somers Town (2009)- Too short, too sappy, but undeniably sweet & quite funny. Huge step backwards for Meadows after This is England *** of 5
You, the Living (2009)- Never knew hopeless misanthropy could be this amusing. Nihilism, you crack me up! ***** out of 5
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)- Take some Ritalin & Pepto and watch. Might just have some mindless fun. *** out of 5
Laila's Birthday (2009)-A slow taxi ride from one manufactured occurrence to another thankfully ends sweetly. *** out of 5
Collapse (2009)- The sky is falling! Did I say the sky, I meant the clouds... no wait, the sun. WHY WON'T YOU BELIEVE ME? ***1/2 of 5
Adam (2009)- Convention & a weak subplot are forgivable in a touching and respectful look at Aspergers. Pitch-perfect ending. **** out of 5
Motherland (2009)-Amazing women and poor people exploited to make a bad documentary. Cruel to play with grief and poverty. ** out of 5
Fifty Dead Men Walking (2009)- Well made, moderately interesting thriller that's wildly uneven. Trying to be another The Departed. *** of 5
Still Walking (2009)-Despite a heedless change of tone halfway, this family drama about grief is so very sad and so very beautiful **** of 5
Of Time and the City (2009)-Though some overlong sequences, Davies' doc is singularly poetic and meticulously well-crafted. **** out of 5
Red Road (2007)- Can't stress enough how chilling Arnold's thriller is...worth it though for its insight into grief. ****1/2 out of 5
This Gun for Hire (1942)- Alan Ladd is a revelation, but plot requires more than suspension... slaughter of disbelief. **1/2 out of 5
The Lovely Bones (2009)- Good. Should have been great but gets bogged down in eye-rolling logic and an overbearing soundtrack. *** out of 5
Nine (2009)- Total misfire. Other than Cotillard & Cruz, the other women join Day Lewis by giving empty performances in a pretty empty film. **1/2
My Man Godfrey (1936)- The silly rich get what's coming to them through kindness. A few great laugh-out-loud moments. **** out of 5
Friday, December 31, 2010
And there you have it folks! Four days of analyzing the films and Oscar possibilities of 2010. I'm writing this introduction one hour and forty-five minutes before 2011! What a great way to end the year by sharing insights with three great lovers of film. Please feel free to comment on any of these posts to any one of us and I'll make sure your comment is seen by the intended recipient.
Sean Patrick Kernan's writing will be in maroon. Visit Sean's blog here.
Julian Stark's writing will be in green. Visit Julian's blog here.
Candice Frederick's writing will be in blue. Visit Candice's blog here.
My writing will be in orange.
Sean Patrick Kernan
What a great year this has been and to cap it off with this four day intensive look back at the best movies of the year with three of the most educated and unique bloggers on the net has been phenomenal. Candice, Brian and Julian thank you. Dear reader, please contribute as well, you can email me or on Candice, Brian and Julian's sites they have comment sections.
And, there is always Twitter
I actually have to agree with Candice that Mark Ruffalo was better in Shutter Island. I actually didn’t see too much in his Kids Are All Right performance, even though it’s easily ranks high on my list of this year’s best films. To be honest, I’d completely forgotten about his work in Shutter Island, but that’s probably because it’s been so long since I’ve seen it.
Anyway, as far as my Oscar wishlist (alphabetical order) is concerned…
Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Shutter Island)*
Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man 2)
Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass)
Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)
Anne Hathaway (Love and Other Drugs)
Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Anika Noni Rose (For Colored Girls)
Tilda Swinton (I Am Love)
Christian Bale (The Fighter)
Nicolas Cage (Kick-Ass)
Vincent Cassel (Black Swan)
Kieran Culkin (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World)
Zach Galifianakis (It’s Kind of a Funny Story)
Amy Adams (The Fighter)
Barbara Hershey (Black Swan)
Mila Kunis (Black Swan)
Juliette Lewis (Conviction)
Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass)
*I know that it’s a maximum of one nomination per category, but I can dream, can’t I?
However, here’s what I’m predicting (listed in order of most likely to win to least likely; essential locks for nominations are IN CAPS)
COLIN FIRTH (THE KING’S SPEECH)
JESSE EISENBERG (THE SOCIAL NETWORK)
JAMES FRANCO (127 HOURS)
Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine)
Robert Duvall (Get Low)
NATALIE PORTMAN (BLACK SWAN)
ANNETTE BENING (THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT)
JENNIFER LAWRENCE (WINTER’S BONE)
NICOLE KIDMAN (RABBIT HOLE) – close enough to being a lock to be considered one
Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)
CHRISTIAN BALE (THE FIGHTER)
MARK RUFFALO (THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT)
Andrew Garfield (The Social Network)
GEOFFREY RUSH (THE KING’S SPEECH)
Jeremy Renner (The Town)
MILA KUNIS (BLACK SWAN)
AMY ADAMS (THE FIGHTER)
MELISSA LEO (THE FIGHTER)
HELENA BONHAM CARTER (THE KING’S SPEECH)
Barbara Hershey (Black Swan)
To respond to Sean's question about my impression of Greenberg in more depth, I'll say this: Quite frankly I just wished someone other than Stiller played the role. I know he was supposed to be a smug guy, but he didn't give Greenberg any justice. As an actor I think he should have drawn some empathy from the audience to make them see his point of view, and he just didn't. I was disappointed. To me, that showed that he never fully understood the character enough to play him.
I would love The Town to receive a best picture nomination. Though I think too man folks would see it as a The Departed redux for it to stand alone and get recognized. But I definitely agree that Renner should get a nod. To me, his performance in that movie was better than Wahlberg's in The Departed.
And I agree that Wahlberg is swallowed by his terrific cast performances in The Fighter to be a real contender, but it looks like he'll get a nod. Armie Hammer was great in The Social Network but I really think with Sorkin's wonderful script his performance might have been written for him already.
I'm not getting all the love for Kick-Ass. I didn't think it was kickass at all; I thought it was lame But I know I'm in the minority on this one.
I just want to also add that I hope Inception gets more appreciate from the academy than some special effects nods. The script was great, as was the acting. I'd love to also see The Social Network, Black Swan, The Kids are All Right, and Night Catches Us up on the board for best picture. With a 10-movie slot, it might be safe to assume there may be a few duds, throaways, and/or curve balls in the mix. What do you think they'll be? Shutter Island maybe? Blue Valentine? I guess is 127 Hours, Winter's Bone, The King's Speech, and The Fighter as well.
Sean Patrick Kernan
Julian I am so with you on the Kick Ass love. That movie kicked my ass all over the theater and I loved every minute of it. Kick Ass was one of my favorite experiences at the movies in 2010 which is what I want to talk about before I also chime in on the Oscar talk. Two horror movies provided two of my other favorite experiences of the year. Going in to The Crazies I was expecting another lame zombie movie. What I got instead was a taut, witty horror movie that kept me consistently breathless with it's brilliant B-movie-ness. Breck Eisner may just have a career yet and that provides of the bigger surprises of the year. The other favorite experience of the year was The Last Exorcism a smart, self aware horror movie that took a TV actor, Patrick Fabian, and made him look like a superstar. Fabian's charm ropes you in and then once you are hooked director Daniel Stamm rips the rug out from under you in surprising fashion. Just when I thought I couldn't be surprised by a horror movie, The Last Exorcism actually made me jump in my seat.
It was not an exceptionally good year for comedy but a couple stood out for me. Get Him to the Greek is a movie I know Candice is not a fan of but it worked for me. I'm a fan of Russell Brand's schtick and Get Him to the Greek actually makes me eager to see his take on Arthur. The more surprising successes for me were Easy A and Going the Distance. Emma Stone nails every moment of Easy A despite being hampered by omniscient narration and a predictable High School setting. Stone's chemistry with Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as her parents is phenomenal and may be the funniest thing about a very funny movie. Going the Distance worked for me because of how unabashedly foul it was. It's not that I love four letter words but the proper employment of expletives works for me and Going the Distance, and especially Drew Barrymore, deploy expletives in the most unique and unexpected ways.
So, digging into the Oscar talk I think we are underestimating True Grit. We have to keep in mind how much the Academy loves something familiar, hence all the love for The King's Speech. The only thing the Academy loves more than familiarity is zeitgeist, hence the ultimate zeitgeist movie The Social Network getting so much love. True Grit has last year's Oscar winning lead actor. It has Oscar winners the Coen Brothers, pedigree my friends gets you along with the Academy, how else did Meryl Streep get nominated for half a movie in Julie and Julia. Matt Damon is a former Oscar winner and young Hailee Steinfeld has a great narrative, she was selected after a nationwide search of more than 17,000 other actresses and the performance is stunning. If not for the fact that True Grit is a remake it might be lock to win it all.
The Social Network will win this year because Fincher is due, the film is current and by Academy standards it's a hip choice. That's not a knock on The Social Network which is a phenomenal movie but it's not hip, your mom has a Facebook page now. If the Academy were truly hip we'd be talking about Tiny Furniture or I Am Love or Mother, movies that are hot with the tastemakers who are not running with the pack but are setting the pace. I don't claim to be one of those people, I don't have the time to keep up with them but I am aware enough to know what they are talking about and they stopped talking about The Social Network the minute Academy member mommies and daddies started appreciating it. Again, not a knock on The Social Network, merely an observation about the way our culture moves, the moment the Academy starts talking about Lena Dunham is the moment she will stop being hip.
Here is my list of the 10 movies the Academy will find acceptable..
The Social Network
The King's Speech
Toy Story 3
Watch out for The Way Back, Get Low, The Kids Are All Right, Rabbit Hole, How to Train Your Dragon and unfortunately Alice in Wonderland.
Winter's Bone is a strange case of a movie that critics have delivered all the way to the Academy. It's rare that critics have such power these days but without the critics Winter's Bone would have died on the vine. Instead, Winter's Bone has been making the papers nationwide for the past two weeks, sitting at or near the top of critics lists everywhere. Shutter Island is going to top Inception because the studio muscle has been stronger behind Shutter Island than behind Inception, a rare example where box office may hurt a nominee with the perception that it has been rewarded enough by box office dollars. Keep in mind that Lord of the Rings was the culmination of three films and not an honor for that particular. The notion that box office matters all that much should have been blown up by The Hurt Locker last year. Being a hit helps but for the image conscious Academy creating a hit movie is more fun than bandwagoning on a hit.
Candice I am happy to see you champion Night Catches Us. I wasn't as big of a fan of that film as you are but critics taking on a cause out of passion for the movie is always appealing to me, it's why I still love going to the movies and being a film critic, the chance to find a movie and tell as many people about it as will listen. I had an opportunity this year to be a champion for a tiny independent film that was shot just up the road from me here in Iowa. It's called 16 to Life and it's a charming little Juno-esque story of a small town girl looking for her first kiss on her 16th birthday. 16 to Life is a charming, ultra-literate and witty little comedy that is filled with these tiny perfect moments. I met the director Becky Smith and interviewed her on the radio and was really impressed and moved by how she and the cast were barnstorming this little movie from town to town and film festival to film festival where audiences were delighted enough to give it a couple awards. If you can find 16 to Life I urge you to check it out, it will be one of my last experiences at the movies in 2010.
Please someone promise me that we'll do something like this again next year. I've had a blast, and I feel like I've really been able to cement my own thoughts on the year as a whole by doing this. Again, I still have so many movies to see, and after this back and forth, I can't wait to get back to watching some of the great 2010 movies you all have mentioned that I haven't yet seen.
I haven't yet made my own list of what I think will be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, so I think I'll start formulating one by looking at Sean's choices.
The Social Network is a given, and it's also my favorite non-documentary film of 2010. I think Julian said that it's not a technically impressive film. I couldn't disagree more. Fincher's direction is certainly more subtle than someone like Christopher Nolan's for Inception, but his handiwork is certainly there on screen. No one does CGI the way Fincher does it. It's almost invisible how he's able to implement the CGI without ever drawing attention to it. He's done it again and again with Zodiac and Benjamin Button as other examples. The regatta scene in particular in The Social Network is perhaps the most viscerally exciting scene of the year, and that's all Fincher right there. Plus don't forget what he did with Armie Hammer's characters. By the way, I do think Hammer's fantastic, and he has gotten the recognition he deserves. I can understand Candice's and Sean's points about The Social Network not being the hip film because the Academy loves it, but I do think it will stand the test of time. I wouldn't be surprised to see it high on people's best of the decade lists in 2019. I also wouldn't be surprised to see it on something like the American Film Institute's list of the Greatest American Films in like 30 or 40 years. I truly believe it has the potential to be the movie of this generation. It will win, and it should.
The King's Speech (a really nice movie) is a given. I do agree that True Grit will be nominated for Best Picture. I don't think it will win much at all. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it goes home empty on Oscar night. Again I haven't seen it, but I have read many critics' reviews. I get the sense that many see it as a very solid movie, but as a Coen brothers film, it's not among their best work. The acting is good all around, and I'd love to see Matt Damon, a great actor, get nominated especially since I didn't even think about him until he was mentioned by the three of you. However, I haven't heard anything like "Jeff Bridges' best work" or "Matt Damon's best performance" or "the Coen Brothers' best film." I really do think it will be nominated though. And that whole argument that Julian refuted about the Globes not liking the Coens is ridiculous and Julian explained why perfectly.
I do think Winter's Bone will be nominated as well, and Sean's right that it is the critics that deserve credit for the buzz for it. It's a wonderful film, and it's the sort of film that never would have a chance of being nominated if there were still five nominees. Winter's Bone is exactly the sort of film that gives the ten BP nominee system merit. I think Candice mentioned that she didn't think The Town will be nominated. I disagree completely. It's gotten really good critical buzz and it's done well at the box office. I think it's a pretty sure bet that it will be nominated. Someone mentioned earlier that Ben Affleck might be a surprise nominee for Best Actor. He's good in the film, but I don't see that happening.
That brings me to Shutter Island. I liked Shutter Island. I was entertained by it, but wow, that film is polarizing. Some people hate it. Match that with the fact that it came out early in the year and that it's not among Scorsese's best and I think it's one that might get in, but probably won't. If it had been released later in the year, that might have given it a better shot, but I think the haters are going to have the last word on that one.
Toy Story 3 is a given. It's as charming as any film released this year. Black Swan is also a pretty sure thing in my opinion as well, even if I'm not totally in love with it. I actually think The Fighter is a definite. I don't think the moderate box office is going to hurt it. It's an Oscar bait kind of a film. It'll be nominated--at least I think so.
127 Hours is one of my favorite films of the year. I do think it will be nominated, but it might be the one that might disappoint me by slipping through the cracks. It's such a unique kind of a film and some Academy voters might have avoided it because of the subject matter. That being said, I still think it will get in.
So the nominees so far of Sean's that I agree with are:
The Social Network
The King's Speech
Toy Story 3
That tenth spot will be an interesting one to say the least. Now I'll admit the sad fact that I only predicted seven of the 10 nominees last year, so that makes it difficult for me to even trust myself to predict the biggest wild card of the ten. I really really don't think Shutter Island will get in. So I think that tenth spot will in fact go to Inception. It's a great film. Everyone's seen it. It will be nominated for a number of technical awards. It's just been released on DVD. Christopher Nolan is unbelievably well respected. I think Inception's lack of early awards buzz won't matter that much. Critics groups don't vote for ten films. The Golden Globes' voting process is ridiculous because it's less than 100 people who like famous people and being bribed. The Academy is certainly a serious group of people so they won't nominate something like Iron Man 2, but I think the general moviegoing audience wants to see Inception nominated, and considering that it's also a great film, I think the Academy will award it.
The tenth movie that will be nominated will be:
If I'm wrong, it'll probably be among the following films: The Kids Are All Right, How to Train Your Dragon, Blue Valentine or Rabbit Hole. Again considering my track record from last year, I really do think The Kids Are All Right will be nominated in place of something. But I can't choose eleven films so I'll keep it off even though it's a wonderful movie.
Once again, thanks to Candice, Julian and Sean, and thanks to everyone who has read our exchange. 2011 is here, and I can't wait to start watching the movies we'll be discussing for next year's Blog-a-Thon.