Archive for January 2011

Oscar noms out – how did I do in my predictions?

January 25, 2011

Oscar noms were announced this morning. There were pretty much zero surprises (the biggest may be the absence of Leslie Manville from Supporting Actress). How did I do with my predictions?

Best picture: 9/10 (predicted The Town but they went with The Kids are All Right)

Director: 3/5

Actor: 4/5 (Gosling gets snubbed for Bardem)

Actress: 3/5 (Sort of surprised about Kidman – that movie hasn’t really gotten a whole lot of buzz)

Supporting Actor: 3/5 (oops, only put 4 in my prediction. Doess the lack of Andrew Garfield portend badly for The Social Network?)

Supporting Actress: 2/5 (batting .400 is only good in baseball…)

Documentary: 3/5

Cinematography: 4/5 (though if I had gone with my sleeper instead of Winter’s Bone’s McDonagh I’d be perfect! Go Roger Deakins – they gotta give it to him at some point!)

I got 31 of 45 correct – not too shabby.

Just a quick note about costume design: good on the Academy for nominating at least one (essentially) contemporary film with I Am Love.


Another Year

January 24, 2011

Lately I find myself becoming more and more contrarian when it comes to popular film-critical taste and my own taste. Specifically I have grown quite weary of only the big and flashy being recognized as greatness. Film costuming is only recognized when it’s a period piece or something contemporary yet theatrical like a musical. Yet I appreciate the more commonplace but incredibly effective use of dress in contemporary films filled with everyday people.

But what has really gotten my goat this year is the praise heaped on BIG ACTING with a capital-A performances while smaller, internal, quiet performances are overlooked. The most egregious of these is the over-the-top praise for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo’s perforamnces in The Fighter while Mark Wahlberg is dismissed for deftly playing a character who clearly has spent his entire life living in the shadow of his larger than life relatives. But not all acting has to have the “can’t look away” quality that Leo and Bale epitomize. Acting small can be just as breath-taking.

Which brings me to Mike Leigh’s Another Year – another of his small slice of life dramadies about England’s lower-middle class. The film’s four acts revolve around Tom and Geri, a well adjusted, jovial and compassionate 60-something couple and their largely down-on-their-luck (not to mention alcoholic and personality disordered) friends and (more functional) family. Lesley Manville, one of Leigh’s regulars, is getting serious praise for her performance as the lonely and histrionic chatterbox co-worker Mary. And rightly so – Manville fills the character up completely and remains well rounded and sympathetic in spite of the pathos that Leigh falls into at times. But I was unmoved by her performance. Rather I was moved to tears by the quiet performance of David Bradley (who many apparently know from the Harry Potter movies) as the brother Carl who has just lost his wife. The stoically furrowed brow and the slight glint of moisture in his eye convey something more piercing and a sense of peronal history and sadness than all of Manville’s facial tics and telegraphed looks ever could. (Mary eventually became a character whom, in spite of the fact that she was supposed to be a flawed but ultimately sympathetic figure, ended up becoming truly annoying and despicable such that I wish she’d just disappreared before the winter arrived – Leigh should have known when to say when with Mary’s screen time).
Small and quiet performances rarely get the big accolades but, when they are displayed with such skill as David Bradley’s in this film they get my appreciation all the more. He has the inside track for my favorite performance of 2011 (this movie didn’t come out in my area until just now so it’s 2011 in my mind).

Anyhow, Another Year is a perfectly fine film. A bit of a disappointment though. Leigh has a bad tendency to go head-first into the melodrama and heaviness near the end of some of his movies. The last few moments of Another Year reminded me (in a bad way) of the last 10 minutes of Vera Drake – a pathos-heavy martyrdom that had me almost wishing they’d just nail her up on the cross already. What was wonderful about Leigh’s most previous film Happy, Go Lucky was it’s perfect balance of sadness, lightness and profundity – a testament to Sally Hawkins’ and Eddie Marsan’s restraint as compared to Manville’s balls-to-the-wall emotionalism.

2011 Oscar Nomination predictions

January 21, 2011

Only 11 days until the votes of a bunch of people (who probably watched fewer movies last year than I did and too many of whom have no idea what good costume design or good acting vs. over-acting is) have their votes tallied and the Academy releases it’s nominations. This year seems a lot less wide open than some previous years – there’s clearly one big lock movie that may have some coattails (The Social Network) and one that may have peaked in it’s Oscar buzz at just the right time (Black Swan). Unfortunately there’s also the fact that my favorite film of the year was released last Spring and thus is has been long forgotten by most voters. Timing is everything.

There’s only two mortal locks I see for winners among these awards and those are Best Picture and Best Actress. Everything else is up for grabs.

My Oscar Nomination predictions for the marquee awards (in the order of most likely to win it to least).

Best Picture:

The Social Network
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King’s Speech
Toy Story 3
127 Hours
Winter’s Bone
True Grit
The Town

Sleepers: Another Year, Rabbit Hole

Who deserves it (according to Jeff’s weird tastes): Greenberg

Best Actor:

Jesse Eisenberg (Social Network)
James Franco (127 Hours)
Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine)
Jeff Bridges (True Grit)
Colin Firth (The King’s Speech)

Sleeper: Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole)

Who deserves it: Ben Stiller (Greenberg)

Best Actress:
Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Annette Benning (The Kids are All Right)
Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone)
Tilda Swinton (I Am Love)
Julianne Moore (The Kids are All Right)

Sleeper: Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)

Who deserves it: Hailee Steinfeld

Best Supporting Actor:
Christian Bale (The Fighter)
Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech)
Andrew Garfield (The Social Network)
John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone)

Sleeper: Pete Postlethwaite (posthumous tribute possibility for his work in The Town)

Who deserves it: Hawkes

Best Supporting Actress:
Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)
Jackie Weaver (Animal Kingdom)
Leslie Manville (Another Year)
Olivia Williams (The Ghost Writer)
Mila Kunis (Black Swan)

Sleeper: Dianne Weist (Rabbit Hole)

Who deserves it: Rooney Mara (The Social Network)

Best Documentary:

Inside Job
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Last Train Home
The Tillman Story

Sleeper: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Who deserves it: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Best Director:

David Fincher (The Social Network)
Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit)
Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)
Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone)
Mike Leigh (Another Year)

Sleeper: Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine)

Who deserves it: David Fincher (The Social Network)

Best Cinematography:

Roger Deakins (True Grit)
Wally Pfister (Inception)
Jeff Cronenweth (The Social Network)
Danny Cohen (The King’s Speech)
Michael McDonogh (Winter’s Bone)

Sleeper: Matthew Libatique (Black Swan)

Who deserves it: Harris Savides (Greenberg)

Anything I missed? Do you think any film will upset The Social Network?

The year in cinema

January 8, 2011

2010 was a really full movie year for me – I believe the 63 new features I saw this year was probably the most in my lifetime. Clearly I have far too much
time on my hands.

Looking back at 2010 one sad truth I’ve discovered is that I missed out on a whole lot of non-English language films. I blame this largely on lack of distribution/screening in my area. And it seems that even when most foreign languague features are shown in Metro-Boston they get but a one-week limited release. By my count of the 63 films I saw in 2010 only 10 were foreign language. I sincerely regret missing many of these and having to wait for a long-delayed DVD release (Mother, Carlos) but I do want to credit Netflix for picking up on-demand many others that I missed during their short theatrical run (specifically the quiet relationship meltdown drama Everyone Else.

As has been said by many before me, 2010 was a wonderful year for the narrative, non-journalistic, non- verite documentary. A number of the best films of the year were films that split the difference between artful narrative film and documentary. Eschewing the constraints of truth and organic real-life events films like Exit Through the Gift Shop and I’m Not There were able to craft films that eclipse many less “truthful” stories for pure entertainment and compelling narrative arc. It’s good to see that the popular documentary format has survived beyond the preachy propaganda of Michael Moore and his brethren.

Top 10 films of 2010:

Please note that some of these films were released outside of my area in 2009 but with the lack of consistency in release dates across geographic areas these days it’s hard to have any such consistency with regard to what year some films should count as. Deal with it.

1. Greenberg

I’m a huge fan of the small character/relationship-based films that Noah Baumbach has been making for the last decade and Greenberg may be his best. Baumbach’s ear for the subtile humor in the lives of hip-ouisie is unparalelled. Ben Stiller’s almost perfect performance of a pathetic, angry, mean and cluelessly lost man casting about for explanations for why he’s so damn sad all the time is a career best. For this I give him a pass for 100 Night at the Museum and Meet the Parents sequels. This was also a break-out performance for Greta Gerwig (Matt Singer from sings her praises beautifully in this piece) who demonstrates some of the best naturalistic internal acting you’ll find. Big props to Rhys Ifans performance as the old friend who knows his buddy is a thoughtless douche and needs to grow up but loves him anyway. I must also mention the great Harris Savides and his camera – his work in this film and Somewhere create a blinding, sprawling, hazy and totally unique visual image of a Los Angeles – he puts his stamp on the city in the same way Gordon Willis did with Manhattan.

2. Exit Through the Gift Shop

A wonder of post-production filmmaking, Banksy (or whoemever made this film with permission to put Banksy’s name on it) creates and interweaves two enormously compelling dual narratives. The first documents, through thrilling first-person footage taken on rooftops, sidewalks and on the back of scooters from LA to The West Bank, the rise of street art in the new millenium. The second crafts an image of the character(?)/film maker/poseur street artist Thierry/Mr. Brainwash. The backbone of the story is the obscured talking-head
of Banksy himself who provides some of the most hillarious and insightful commentary about the nature of good art vs. imitation and a demonstration of how critical opinion in the art world can be manipulated by one quote and a big ego. I had pretty much zero interest in Banksy or street art going in to this film and yet it makes #2 on my year end list. Quite an achievement.

3. Fish Tank

Andrea Arnold’s second feature cements her as one of the most vital filmmakers working today. An incredibly sensitive portrait of a marginalized British teen (a magnificent performance from non-professional actor Katie Jarvis) with big dreams of being a hip-hop dancer and escaping the run-down council tower that is her prosaic prison. Another fantastic performance, as well, from Michael Fassbender as Jarvis’ mother’s boyfriend whose interactions with Jarvis’ teen become more complicated and intimate leading to an almost-tragic third act that lets nobody off the hook. Andrea Arnold is for Britain what the Dardennes are for Belgium.

4. Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

Hands down most stunningly alive film of 2010. This micro-budget jazz musical/love story is able to transcend it’s flawed dialogue and sometimes stilted acting through the pure force of the unadulterated joy of it’s set-piece musical and dancing scenes. Some beautiful b&w cinematography that makes Boston look as romantic as Paris or Rome. Harvard film student Damien Chazelle dropped out to finish this Cassavettes meets MGM gem that shows just how artificial and soulless Hollywood musicals have become.

5. Winter’s Bone

An Ozarks noir fueled by breakout performances from Jennifer Lawrence and especially John Hawkes whose “Uncle Teardrop” is able to convey bucket-loads of menace through one gaze. I also have to shout out to Garret Dillahunt who is becoming one of the best and most understated character actors in cinema today.

6. The Secret of Kells

Fuck CGI animation. The beauty contained in this wonderful story of a young boy in a Celtic monastery working to protect an illuminated bible from the invading Viking armies brought me to tears.

7. Blue Valentine

My most anticipated movie of 2010. Slightly disappointing (something was missing from the narrative to really bring home the emotional impact of the turmoil of the main couple) but two stunning pieces of acting from Ryan Gosling and especially Michelle Williams. Williams’ Cindy holds a hurricane of frustration and loathing below the surface allowing it to arise only through looks and piercing sarcasm. The mutual disgust expressed in scene of the two eating dinner in the shabby Future/Sci-fi themed hotel room was spot on. Gosling and Williams imbue these characters with rich unspoken backstory of a relationship begun in haste and ended with both metaphorical and literal fireworks.

8. The Oath

Laura Poitras documentary about Abu Jandal, once a close associate and later betrayer of Osama bin Laden. An incredibly conflicted character, the film makes the mistake of trying to combine Jandal’s conflicted story and beliefs with a jeremiad about the American detention center in Guantanamo.

9. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

The most purely enjoyable movie experience of the year. Edgar Wright is able to combine cinema, video games and comics into something wholly new and always exciting.

10. Four Lions

Co-written by one of the writers of my favorite comedy of last year (In the Loop), Four Lions bravely puts a comedic spin on contemporary Islamo-terrorism. This film walks the line between hillarity and bad taste as well as the line between sympathy and pity for the bumbling wannabe terrorists. Some absolutely hillarious scenes – how to run while carrying volatile explosives, whether a wookie is a bear, and an explanation about how heaven for a martyr means getting to be first in line for the inflatible tube water park rides at a British theme park (rubber dinghy rapids bro!)

Honorable Mentions: Lebanon, Everyone Else, True Grit, Shutter Island, The Social Network, The Killer Inside Me, 127 Hours, White Material, Please Give

Most overrated movie of the year:

The Kids are Alright – a perfectly fine quirky little indie comedy with an impressive performance from Annette Benning. Far from transcendent and wildly over-praised.

Trailer of the Year

The American

Not because it’s a particularly excellent trailer from an artistic perspective. Rather because the trailer made this slow, Euro-style art house low-key “thriller” which, I swear, uses a full 1/3 of it’s running time focusing on George Clooney making a gun by hand, appear to be a Jason Bourne-esque action spy thriller. The film made $35 million domestically and I’d guess that $30 million of those ticket purchasers left the theater pissed off and bored.

Best lead and supporting acting of the year

Favorite lead performance goes to Ben Stiller in Greenberg and Hailee Steinfeld who just came out of nowhere in True Grit. I can’t believe Steinfeld was only 13 when this was filmed. Amazing.

Favorite supporting performance goes to John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone and Rooney Mara for the mind-blowingly perfect first scene from The Social Network. I’m really looking forward to her as the lead in the American versions of Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy.

Favorite over the top crazy supporting performance of the year goes to Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley in The Runaways, who beats out Christian Bale’s eyes about to pop out of his head life of the crack party Dickie Ecklund in The Fighter.

Most impressive cinematic experience of the year: Enter the Void

Beginning with the most memorable opening credits (the jarring machine-gun cut speed and propulsive electronic-dance accompanyment let you know that you are in for something pretty damn exciting) Enter the Void is an experience designed specifically for the movie house. While many of the film’s concepts are stoner-laughable and the Freudian themes are clunky and obvious I could not help but be help rapt by the formal and technical aspects of this film. Noe is able to seamlessly combine traditional cinematography with cutting edge computer animation better than I’ve ever seen. Avatar, eat your heart out.

Biggest disappointments of the year:

Atom Egoyan’s movie-of-the-week psycho-girl melodrama Chloe, Sofia Coppolla’s wheel-spinning yet occasionally perfect Somewhere and Woody Allen’s dull and forgettable You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.

Full list of all 63 movies I’ve seen this year: Centurion, Predators, The Human Centipede: First Sequence, Buried, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Unstoppable, The Runaways, The Kids are All Right, The Fighter, The Extra Man, The Crazies, Somehwere, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, Never Let me Go, Lovers of Hate, Kick Ass, I’m Still Here, Hot Tub Time Machine, Green Zone, Frozen, Fair Game, Enter the Void, Cyrus, The Exploding Girl, Splice, Ondine, I Love You Phillip Morris, Colony, Chloe, Prodigal Sons, Drones, Shutter Island, Solitary Man, Please Give, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Four Lions, The Town, Animal Kingdom, Inception, The Killer Inside Me, The Social Network, 127 Hours, The Ghost Writer, The American, Black Swan, Restrepo, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Tiny Furniture, True Grit, Rabbit Hole, A Prophet, Lebanon, Micmacs, Everyone Else, White Material, The Oath, Winter’s Bone, Greenberg, Exit Thorough the Gift Shop, Blue Valentine, Fish Tank, The Secret of Kells, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, Valhalla Rising, A Serbian Film

Some gaps in my 2010 viewing: Easy A, Catfish, Carlos, Toy Story 3, Inside Job, 45365, The King’s Speech, The Tillman Story, Hadewijch, Vincere, Secret Sunshine, Boxing Gym, Ajami, Marwencol, The Illusionist, Another Year, Mother, Let Me In, Waste Land, Alamar, The Square, Bluebeard, Dogtooth, Easy A, Life During Wartime, Looking for Eric, Wild Grass, Jack Goes Boating

Please respond to my thoughts in the comments. What’s your top 10 of the year? Was I a freaking idiot for not liking Black Swan enough? Do I have too much of a man crush on Michael Fassbender? Have at me!

Screw you Hollywood for neutering David O Russell

January 5, 2011

Thanks to freelance writer Dan Kois for bringing to my attention (via Slate’s end of the year film discussion) the project that David O Russell gave up on before making The Fighter. Behold, the project that Hollywood will never let see the light of day: Nailed. Jessica Biel plays a waitress who gets a nail through her head, goes to DC with activists for health care (including Tracy Morgan as a dude with an “anal prolapse” whatever that is) and meets and gets exploited by sleazy Congressman Jake Gyllenhaal.

Why the hell does Russell waste his time on forgettable blah sports movie cliches punctuated by scads of over-praised scenery munching that get not only released but proclaimed as great cinema while his maniac-genius is wasted and works like Nailed never made it out of production?

My year end post is coming soon…don’t fret.

January 3, 2011

I just need to see a couple of late year releases that I think may shake up my top 10 list (Blue Valentine and Another Year) and I’ll run it all down for ya.