Sunday, February 27, 2011
Where Co-Host James Franco seemed to be uncomfortable and stiff in his role, Hathaway looked to be right at home on stage, with her effortless charm, warmth, humor, unscripted asides, wonderful singing voice and yes folks, her unquestionable beauty which seemed to grow as this looooooong night carried onwards. Anne Hathaway was the shining beacon of yet another long Oscar night and hopefully, she will be asked to return to host the show next year...preferably as a solo act.
Now, if only the show itself were anywhere up to Hathaway's standards.
Yes, dear readers, this year's Oscar telecast was, more often than not, a bust. It was the definition of awkward and odd, filled with dead spots, superfluous padding and could someone please inform me if there was something wrong with the teleprompter this evening as actor after actor all seemed to be auditioning for the leading role as the verbally challenged King of this year's Oscar winner for Best Picture "The King's Speech." It was really a terrible, terrible show. Aside from Anne Hathaway and some moments here and there, it was completely unworthy of the films the Academy chose to honor.
I do not understand how or why the producers can never seem to get this show right and tonight's offering was no exception and to a nearly painful degree as it was an almost lifeless affair. As I have said before, I wish that the Oscars were more like the Golden Globes as that telecast keeps the proceedings moving rapidly, giving out award after award, keeping everything fresh and sharp and with a host like Ricky Gervais, the program is filled to the brim with scathingly memorable humor. And furthermore, the actors are all allowed to imbibe copious amounts of spirits, making the atmosphere akin to a festival.
The Academy Awards, and this year's program in particular, felt like an interminable dirge, slogging through its legacy with endless self-importance while never really capturing a flow or a sense of fun. And if celebrating the art and artistry of the movies cannot be fun, then what's the point.
All of that being said, here are some things I have thought about now that the show is FINALLY over.
1. Beginning with my predictions, I didn't do to shabby, I must say. Out of all of the categories in which I made my imperfect guesses, I am proud to say that I was correct for all but two categories, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director.
2. Was it just me or did Best Supporting Actress winner Melissa Leo's acceptance speech feel more than a little forced as if she rehearsed her breathless disbelief a few too many times, including her dropping of the dreaded F-Bomb. It just felt so false, as false as her personally driven "For Your Consideration" campaigning seemed to be. Yes, she is an excellent actress and of course, she wanted to win. But, I just think that the work should speak for itself.
3. On the other hand, Kirk Douglas is a foxy old man, reminding us all why he is the legend that he is through his natural humor and having the charisma of the most captivating scoundrel.
4. Anne Hathaway was a spectacular hostess. Did I mention that already? She just grew more luminous with each wardrobe change, making the grandness of the stage conform to her.
5. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are a dream team and completely and successfully evaded the death trap that was the teleprompter with some of the only fresh, sharp humor of the night.
6. With all of the technical wins that "Inception" deservedly received, I thoroughly enjoyed how all of the winners thanked Writer/Director Christopher Nolan for his vision, emphasizing that is nothing they accomplished could have been achieved without him. A perfect poke in the eye to the Academy as Nolan was shockingly not nominated in the category of Best Director.
7. The Auto-Tune Movie Musicals section was cute. As were the opening clip montage by Kyle Cooper and the "Inception" themed montage comedy opening skit.
8. For all of the rambling speeches of the evening, my favorites happened to be from the screenwriters. Aaron Sorkin who deservedly won for his Best Adapted Screenplay for "The Social Network" spoke just as he writes: blisteringly fast, witty and daring you to keep up with his flow of his beautifully chosen words. David Seidler, who won for Best Original Screenplay for "The King's Speech," spoke to the late bloomers in us all, giving us inspiration in the process.
9. I still do not know why they are still having actors personally address nominated actors seated in the audience. It's awkward and it's padded. Just get on with it! And speaking of padding, please just get rid of the Best Original Song category!
10. My biggest cheer of the night arrived when Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross won for their brilliant score to "The Social Network." It felt like a treasured high school classmate made it to the top of the world.
11. Wasn't Anne Hathaway just wonderful?
Like the song by Radiohead, this year's Oscar telecast, as far as the winner's were concerned, held no surprises but by the same token there were no glaring winners that should not have been recognized (although I am not sold on "The Fighter").
If it weren't for Hathaway, there would have been very little worth watching for such a long time. And yet, I wouldn't miss this show for the world.
I'll see you all next year...with hopefully Anne Hathaway in the driver's seat again!
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Admittedly, I am feeling more than a little foolish going ahead with this latest entry as current tumultuous political events within my city of Madison, WI have made the idea of the Academy Awards telecast and my personal Oscar predictions feel more than a little trite, ridiculous, and useless.
But, here I am writing for myself and writing to you, dear readers, for what else would I do? I think that I should be carrying onwards. not as if to pretend nothing is happening. But because writing about movies is what I love to do and I should not allow that love to be stripped away from me. Life flows onwards and film, being such a big part of my life for almost the entirety of my life, deserves to always be nurtured and tended. So, despite everything and even my own sense of self-doubt and fears of senseless frivolity, here I am.
SAVAGE CINEMA'S 2011 OSCAR PREDICTIONS
On Sunday, February 27th, we will all have the answers to our cinematic questions concerning the winners of this year's Oscar race. And a race it is as much of the nature of predictions such as these has slightly less to do with quality and a tad more to do with Hollywood politics. Certainly, since I have not even seen every single film nominated for an award, I will have to do a fair amount of guess work and play a few political games so here goes...
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
SHOULD WIN: Hailee Steinfeld "True Grit"
WILL WIN: Hailee Steinfeld "True Grit"
I am swinging for the fences right away with a category that logic tells me will go to Melissa Leo for her work in "The Fighter," but I am having this nagging gut feeling and I thought I would go for it anyway. Typically, this category is one of the first awards of the evening and again, logic tells me that the coronation of Melissa Leo is inevitable. Leo is an actress I have long admired, most notably for her work on television's unmatched "Homicide: Life On The Street." She has been working for so very long and now seems to be the time to anoint her with Oscar gold--especially as she has been campaigning for herself heavily with a glammer than glam series of promotional "For Your Consideration" photos. She obviously wants this win very badly.
Now, for me, as good of an actress as Leo is, I felt her work in "The Fighter" to be more of a caricature than her playing a full blown character. Amy Adams, from the same film, gave a much stronger performance but I don't think it's quite time for her to receive that Oscar yet. For me, my favorite performance--and the one I think that the Academy will not ignore--was from someone who I felt was nominated in the wrong category as her performance was really a Leading Actress role. Young Hailee Steinfeld from "True Grit" gave a performance of such rigidly unsentimental command and authority while also working her mouth around mountains of essentially archaic language so effortlessly that it felt to be her natural manner of speech. And she more than held her own with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. Oscar has loved giving awards to children in the past, like Tatum O'Neal from "Paper Moon" (1973) and Anna Paquin from "The Piano" (1993). Oscar also loves the Coen Brothers, and also "True Grit" has turned into the biggest box office hit of their career so far. A win for Steinfeld is something I would love to see and it would be the icing on the cake, as it were. This is a risky prediction sure, but Oscar does like to have at least one big surprise so who knows?
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
SHOULD WIN: Geoffrey Rush "The King's Speech"
WILL WIN: Christian Bale "The Fighter"
Bale is also on his way to an Oscar coronation this year as his performance as the drug addicted boxing washout has already garnered major awards throughout this season. As mesmerizing as he was, and as much as I love his work, he also felt to be a bit of a caricature than a character. It was perhaps a bit too flashy, too showy, too much of an obvious Oscar pick.
As much as I absolutely loved Mark Ruffalo in "The Kids Are All Right," so much so that I believe it to be his finest performance to date, I don't think it quite holds a candle to Geoffrey Rush's work as speech therapist Lionel Logue. It was a Master Class in acting that never once called attention to itself or pandered for Oscar glory. His work was brilliantly symbiotic with Colin Firth's as the greatness of each man could not have been achieved without the other. That said, I think Christian Bale will glide onto the stage Sunday night and grab the statuette.
SHOULD WIN: Natalie Portman "Black Swan"
WILL WIN: Natalie Portman "Black Swan"
If "Black Swan" had not been released this year, I believe that this category would be Annette Bening's to lose as her performance in "The Kids Are All Right" was beautifully outstanding. But, "Black Swan" was released this year and Natalie Portman gave the performance of her life. She has never been this devastating and no other actress pulled off what she accomplished. As I said in my original review, just dispense with this section of the program and any other preamble and just give Portman the award.
SHOULD WIN: Colin Firth "The King's Speech"
WILL WIN: Colin Firth "The King's Speech"
Remember how I just said that Geoffrey Rush's performance in "The King's Speech" was symbiotic with Firth's so that both men were able to shine at their brightest? That is why I am picking Firth to finally get his Oscar due with his heartbreaking but never cloying or sentimental performance that instantly found the recognizable humanity of a man drowning in his own lack of self-confidence.
This is a difficult choice as this particular category is packed tightly with one great performance after another, especially Jesse Eisenberg's enigmatic and searing work in "The Social Network" and James Franco's powerfully singular and naturalistic performance in "127 Hours." Since Franco is hosting the telecast, he certainly will not win. I think that this night will be Colin Firth's night and he more than deserves the illustrious honor.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
SHOULD WIN: Christopher Nolan "Inception"
WILL WIN: David Seidler "The King's Speech"
For whatever reason, Oscar seems to have some issue with Christopher Nolan and I cannot figure out what it may be as Nolan tends to be quite unassuming as far as public relations are concerned. He is a major player as a top Hollywood filmmaker but he has been shockingly and unfairly snubbed in regards to recognition for his work. So, while his screenplay for "Inception" is easily the most inventive, creative and decidedly original one of the bunch, I think the Academy will set its sights upon David Seidler's excellent work with "The King's Speech." Also, Seidler's personal backstory--where he was diagnosed with cancer and he wrote the original stage version feeling that he would die, only to be blessed with remission--is precisely the type of human quality element that Oscar loves.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
SHOULD WIN: Aaron Sorkin "The Social Network"
WILL WIN: Aaron Sorkin "The Social Network"
This is as much of a slam duck as Natalie Portman winning for Best Actress as there is just no question in my mind of which adapted screenplay is the shining star of an illustrious bunch. Sorkin's dialogue, character development and structure is unmatched and in many ways, unreachable and since I think Oscar night will belong to "The King's Speech," here will be a way for Oscar to honor one of 2010's most celebrated films.
BEST ANIMATED FILM
SHOULD WIN: "How To Train Your Dragon"
WILL WIN: "Toy Story 3"
Obvious, of course as Pixar is beginning to be the animated film version of Meryl Streep's nearly annual nomination at the Academy Awards. As Pixar has been deservedly nominated time and again for their almost always untouchable work, and as good as "Toy Story 3" is, I still feel, so very strongly, that "How To Train Your Dragon" is the better film. However, since Pixar has been nominated in this category and the Best Picture category, it will be crowned the "2010 King Of Animation" undoubtedly.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
SHOULD WIN: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross "The Social Network"
WILL WIN: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross "The Social Network"
Most film scores are admittedly unremarkable splashes of sonic wallpaper but for this category, the Academy got it right by celebrating a variety of film music compositions and composers who truly created innovative and memorable works that even stand out strongly on their own existing as pieces of music to dive into without the film it is connected to.
Legendary composer Hans Zimmer struck gold again with a challenging, disturbing score for "Inception" while A.R. Rathman, previously awarded for his work on "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008) also succeeded grandly with his work on "127 Hours." But for my money, it was Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' first time at the cinematic scoring bat that will take home the gold as they created a soundscape of existential dread that perfectly underscored the diminishing humanity of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and our increased alienation as a society becoming more reliant upon the virtual world. Reznor and Ross...ahem...nailed it!
SHOULD WIN: Darren Aronofsky
WILL WIN: David Fincher
I'll spare you the continuous rancor I feel whenever I am reminded that Christopher Nolan was not nominated for his tremendous direction of "Inception" while the film itself is nominated for Best Picture. So, grudgingly, I'll move ahead and deal with the reality of the nominations.
As this category is also one of the strongest and toughest yet, (I'm sorry) I would easily replace the presence of David O. Russell with Nolan as Russell's "The Fighter" was disappointingly the most pedestrian film this usually risky and idiosyncratic filmmaker has directed to date while Nolan easily pushed the medium that much forwards. Yet, the one filmmaker who pushed the medium to its highest peak for me was Darren Aronofsky whose "Black Swan" was an experience like no other in 2010 and for me, he should easily receive the highest honor. But, "Black Swan," despite its box office success, is a defiantly polarizing film so Oscar voters certainly would not give him the grand prize. The Coen Brothers have already been given much love by the Academy so I do not think they'll receive the grand prize either.
So...that leaves David Fincher, director of such films as "Se7en" (1995), "Fight Club" (1999), "Panic Room" (2002) and "Zodiac" (2007) and this year's outstanding "The Social Network." I think this year will be his time to claim the big prize as he more than deserves it, for his career thus far as especially for his latest work, easily one of his finest films.
SHOULD WIN: "Black Swan"
WILL WIN: "The King's Speech"
Out of the ten nominees for Best Picture, I have seen 9 (I just haven't had the opportunity to view "Winter's Bone" yet). It is an excellent list overall, although if I could wave my cinematic magic wand, I would remove "The Fighter" and "Toy Story 3" and replace them with either Ben Affleck's "The Town," or Mark Romanek's "Never Let Me Go." And so it goes...
If you have not nodded off during any point of these predictions and have been following everything so far, it should be obvious that I am wishing for "Black Swan" to claim the title of Best Picture as for me, this film was cinema to behold. But...again it is a polarizing film, extremely dark, difficult and perhaps too intense for some viewers to truly enjoy so I am certain it doesn't hold a chance and furthermore, honoring Natalie Portman would be recognition enough.
The one nominated film that seems to measure up to the pageantry, the pomp, the circumstance, and the regality of the Oscars...the one that seems like the most obvious choice to receive the highest honor is unquestionably Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech." It is a film of honest, unsentimental emotion as well as a beautiful and compassionate testament to what can be accomplished when people selflessly band together for a common goal, earning respect, trust, self-confidence and dignity in the process.
Hmmm...after writing those words, perhaps this exercise was not so pointless after all.
See you Sunday night!!
Thursday, February 17, 2011
2010 was not a great movie year but the greatness it contained was truly breathtaking. As I think about my favorite films from the year, these are the selections that truly went the extra mile and then some. They each tested the limits of their respective genres and at times, the nature of filmmaking itself, making for stories and storytelling that was always inventive, creative, fresh, emotional, compelling, and entertaining to the highest degree.
So, without further adieu, here are my favorites of the year and as with the other three sections of this series, full reviews of ALL of the listed films are housed on this site.
THE TOP TEN FILMS OF 2010
10. "HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON"
Co-Written and Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
While Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” is receiving all of the love and attention, for my money, this was the best animated film of the year, so wondrous that I really believe that it could make the wizards at Pixar collectively look over their shoulders. While the story and adventures of teenaged Viking Hiccup and his trusty dragon Toothless was overly familiar, the undeniable magic arrived through the way the story was told and how it was anchored through the stunningly beautiful friendship and bond created between a boy and his dragon. Even animated, this relationship contained was some of the finest human/animal interaction I have seen since Carroll Ballard’s “The Black Stallion” (1979). Additionally, the film delivered on flying and action sequences that were more extraordinary than anything in James Cameron’s “Avatar” (2009), the terrific individualized details for all of the various dragon breeds, strong comedy and also, a tender Father/son plotline. “How To Train Your Dragon” was the first film I awarded four stars in 2010 and it was essential this film would have a place on this list.
Available on DVD
9. "EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP" Directed by Banksy
Despite my love for “Waiting For ‘Superman’,” this examination of the art world and the exploration of the inherent truth and lies behind art and the artists who create was the finest documentary I saw in 2010. This feat was extremely aided by the towering presence of two of the most compulsively watchable and fascinating characters I’ve seen in the movies all year, the unseen and celebrated street artist (as well as this film’s director) Banksy and the compulsive videographer turned street artist named Thierry Guetta. Questions have risen to the authenticity of this film even being a documentary at all, or if it is some sort of elaborate hoax masquerading as a piece of art. I don’t care about that a whit as the resulting film was exhilarating, exuberant, highly entertaining and yes, I do believe that, in and of itself, it is a work of art.
Available on DVD
8. “127 HOURS” Directed by Danny Boyle
Based upon the true story of Aron Ralston, who was famously trapped within a mountain ravine with his right arm pinned between two rocks for five days, and severed the aforementioned arm in order to survive was an excellent new entry from Boyle, who follows up his Oscar winning “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) with an equally brilliant effort. The harrowing tale of survival featured propulsive, kaleidoscopic filmmaking that pushes the medium of film defiantly forwards while always honoring the art of serving the storytelling, a quality so necessary for a story this primal. Yes, the arm decapitation sequence is appropriately grisly but I found this film to be really about the unforgiving aspect of nature and the interconnectivity between all living things as realized by a man when he is most alone. James Franco richly deserved his Oscar nomination with his natural and seemingly effortless performance, which holds you in its grip so confidently, and without any pandering histrionics.
Now Playing in Theaters
7. "EASY A" Directed by Will Gluck
This film was one of the year’s biggest surprises for me as what could have been a run of the mill teen comedy was actually a brilliantly written, perfectly executed social comedy. Emma Stone gave a star making performance as high school student Olive Penderghast, whose life unravels when her little white lie concerning a mythical episode of sexual intercourse explodes into a communal obsession with her emerging sexuality. Gluck’s crisp, clean and snappy direction completely served Bert V. Royal’s beautifully loquacious and literate screenplay. “Easy A” was a film that aimed for and completely reached the gold standard of teen films from the 1980s through its skill, class, humor, intelligence and having one of the strongest teen heroines I’ve seen in the movies for a long, long time. Furthermore and so wonderfully, “Easy A” was the very best teen film I have seen in over 20 years. I imagine that John Hughes would be so proud.
Available on DVD
6. “THE KING’S SPEECH” Directed by Tom Hooper
I am a filmgoer who tends to have a strong aversion to historical British dramas about royalty. The politics and pageantry are so typically pitched to such a ponderous degree that films of this nature tend to feel so stuffy, holding me at arm’s length as a result. But, this film did no such thing as Hooper stripped away all of the pomp and circumstance, making “The King’s Speech” instantaneously and recognizably human and relatable. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are masterful equals as the vocally afflicted King George VI and his unorthodox speech therapist Lionel Logue. The tentative and at times contentious relationship between these two men anchored and drove a film that served a political story while also keeping the human traits of failure, self-confidence, resolve, dignity, leadership, language and communication at the forefront. With a level of excellence displayed from the very first frame, “The King’s Speech” was one of the year’s most beautiful films.
Now Playing in Theaters
5. “SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD” Co-Written and Directed by Edgar Wright
Every once in a while a film comes along and arrives into our movie theaters in the most unassuming fashion. Yet, from the first frame, the film explodes into an experience unlike anything else playing anywhere. Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim VS. The World” was one of those films, an entry into a rare class of films (like Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 feast “Moulin Rouge!”) that possesses so much confidence within itself that you will either go for the experience or you won’t. There is absolutely no middle ground whatsoever.
Based upon the graphic novel series created by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the film tells the story of the titular Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a 22 year old video game obsessed and romantically wounded native of Toronto who falls in love with his dream girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), only to discover that in order to win her heart, he must defeat her seven evil exes who are all out to kill him. The film is a veritable audio/visual sonic boom as it is ENDLESSLY inventive from the sight of the studio logo all the way through to the final ending credit. It is a cinematic crime to me that this film was not nominated in the Oscar category for Best Visual Effects as “Scott Pilgrim VS. The World” boasted some of the very best and most creative CGI and special effects I have seen in years.
And still, the film is not sacrificing its soul in the pursuit of style over substance. Wright ingeniously illustrates how Pilgrim and his twentysomething community of friends and enemies are all in the state of romantic woe, and utilize their media drenched minds and ironic poses as deeply heartfelt shields against the growing pains of adult responsibilities in adult relationships. This film is a wild ride with a huge heart and I am anxious to plunk in another quarter.
Available on DVD
4. “THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT” Co-Written and Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
The year’s very best social/family comedy arrived in the summer months of 2010 and throughout the year, it has remained so high in my thoughts as I recall the excellence of the writing, the acting, the tone, the presentation, the empathy and the heart and compassion. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore luminously star as Nic and Jules, a longtime upper middle class married couple and parents to two teenaged children (Mia Wasiowska and Josh Hutcherson), whose lives are thrown into an upheaval with the arrival of the swaggering shaggy dog sperm donor Paul (Mark Ruffalo).
Bening completely earned her Oscar nomination with a deeply layered performance as the prickly and passionate Nic. She is a workaholic doctor who is resentful of Jules’ wayward life and Paul’s entrance as a potential parental influence while she also fiercely loves and protects her family, is sadly preparing herself for her daughter’s departure for college and also nurses a nasty addiction to alcohol. Bening handles all of these qualities and levels with a naturalistic ease that never makes the character a histrionic cliché but as real as any woman I know and see every day. Ruffalo also gave, quite possibly, the best performance of his career as Paul, a man who has run more than his fair share of emotional red lights and who is finally confronted with the consequences of his breezy decisions. It was another of this year’s cinematic crimes that Moore was not nominated for her performance as it was equally complex and completely complimentary to Bening’s performance, making the couple of Nic and Jules feel so undeniably lived it and real. You could easily sense the shared romantic history between these two women and within that aspect, “The Kids Are All Right” functioned as one of the year’s two best love stories.
And even beyond that, by NOT announcing itself as a soapbox movie, it made a grand political statement in favor of families where the parents just happen to be of the same gender. Often hilarious, knowingly perceptive, sexually frisky and profoundly humane, “The Kids Are All Right” was more than just all right, it was cinematic excellence.
Available on DVD
3. "THE SOCIAL NETWORK" Directed by David Fincher
Now, we’re getting into the nitty gritty as we are now at one of 2010’s highest achievements and one of David Fincher’s very best films. The story of the creation of Facebook and the rise of its creator, Harvard school student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) utilized the eternal themes of friendship, belonging, success, failure, betrayal, power and corruption and fused them into an remarkably brilliant film that speaks to the nature of our lives and humanity at this point in the 21st century. Aaron Sorkin’s exemplary screenplay allowed Fincher’s wonderful actors (including Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, Roomey Mara and Justin Timberlake) the chance to dive into verbal gymnastics with dialogue pitched at such a velocity that it matched the speed of our accelerated times. Eisenberg is particularly terrific as he created a searing, seething performance as the nearly emotionally impenetrable Zuckerberg, whose true motivations and needs are continuously revealed, questioned, seen and unseen through a series of inter-connected flashbacks and two court depositions. He always keeps you guessing as to the validity of his motivations, and he remains compellingly enigmatic even when he is at his most repellent. Special mention must be given to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross whose brooding electronic film score unexpectedly yet perfectly provides the film with a clear underpinning of existential dread as Zuckerberg’s diminishing humanity mirrors Fincher’s warning of the audience’s increasing isolation as we all grow more reliant upon the virtual world.
Available on DVD
2. "INCEPTION" Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan
Out of all of the major filmmakers who released movies in 2010, I was thrilled to see that Christopher Nolan not only didn't stumble creatively, he hit a grand slam with his masterful, extraordinary, astoundingly inventive dream world epic starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a tormented corporate dream thief involved in the most profound caper of his life. Nolan reportedly worked on his original screenplay over a ten year period and it shows as it is air-tight while also utilizing a structure that plays with time and various descending levels of dream states designed to further disorient the characters and viewers. And somehow, someway, Nolan keeps all of it firmly in his directorial grasp as all of his actors (including Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and Tom Hardy) while also leaving you with an interpretive conclusion that is appropriately elusive.
“Inception” is a film that not only fits snugly with his oeuvre but it also works as an allegory to the dream weaving that exists in the movie making process itself. Our dreams are all created from the iconography of our individual lives where familiar elements, events, places and people are shaped and re-shaped into our unique inner-visions. With “Inception,” Nolan is utilizing the familiar iconography of his life in film, from his own work to the films he has loved himself, to represent and create his uniquely personal inner vision, which he has so brilliantly shared with us. For me, everything was so right about this movie--from the cinematography to the special effects to Hans Zimmer's innovative film score which featured the great guitarist Johnny Marr--and ever since I saw it opening weekend this past July, it remained as my favorite film of 2010. That is, until I saw…
Available on DVD
1. "BLACK SWAN" Directed by Darren Aronofsky
There was no other film I saw in 2010 that reached as far as this one, especially as it plunged so deeply into the fractured mind of an aging ballet dancer who is feverishly in pursuit of absolute perfection. Natalie Portman gave the performance of her life as Nina Sayers, the aforementioned ballet dancer who is struggling to attain the title dual role in her company’s production of “Swan Lake.” In addition to weathering the jealous wrath of her fellow dancers, the demands of her brutal choreographer (Vincent Cassell), fierce competition from a more confidant rival (a great Mila Kunis), and the overly smothering presence of her Mother (Barbara Hershey), Nina has to face down her relentless demons and fracturing psyche in order to tap into her dark side to fully embody the role of the Black Swan.
Like some of the other films on this list, Aronofsky created a work that stood so tall with such supreme confidence, that every audience member’s reaction to it was equally extreme. Again, there was no middle ground with this film. It’s labyrinthine structure utilizes motifs of mirrors, the colors of black and white and juxtaposes elements we know about the real actors plus the characters they are playing plus the characters within the story of “Swan Lake” as they all bounce back and forth from each other, weaving an endless rabbit hole from which poor Nina is unable to crawl out from. We see her world just as she sees it, unexpected hallucinations and all, and the effect is exhilarating and terrifying.
”Black Swan” is no quaint ballet picture or “Fatal Attraction”/”Single White Female” styled motion picture. It is the definition of an experience as it proudly stands up as a boldly artistic, operatic nightmare. Years from now as I make my “Time Capsule” series for the decade of 2010-2019, Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” will definitely be represented as one of the very best films of this period!!!
Now Playing in Theaters
And there you have it!! I really hope that you have enjoyed this four part series and I am looking so forward to seeing and reviewing the new movies of 2011 for you, dear readers.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
2010 was a year, where more often than not, the mightiest filmmakers creatively tripped, stumbled or fell smack down the cinematic flight of stairs. Of course, every film can't be a masterpiece but that said, it was definitely a stunning and completely unexpected sight to witness so many of our finest cinematic artists fall so creatively short indeed.
As always, just take my final kick in the seat of the pants to these film as mere opinions, as this segment is not designed to insult anyone's particular tastes. These are all films that, for varying reasons, did not work for me at all.
Just as with the first two sections of this four part series, full reviews of all of the following films are housed on this site.THE DISAPPOINTMENTS
“GREENBERG” Written and Directed by Noah Baumbach
A critical favorite during 2010 that was just lost on me completely. Ben Stiller gave an outstanding performance as Roger Greenberg, a misanthropic 41-year-old house sitting for his vacationing brother’s family in Los Angeles who becomes involved with the family’s assistant, played by Greta Gerwig. It is a film of ennui, middle aged melancholy and tentative connection between two lost souls that is completely undone by its lack of internal storytelling momentum, dry to a fault direction and Gerwig’s sadly and profoundly underwritten character combined with her own nearly narcoleptic performance. I really did not like this film, which was so surprising as the subject matter is right up my alley and the filmmaker is one I have long admired.
“THE LAST AIRBENDER” Written, Produced and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
”THE NIGHT CHRONICLES: DEVIL” Directed by John Erick Dowdle
It was a hard, hard year for M. Night Shyamalan as he presented two ambitious but very underwhelming features that did nothing to return him to his past cinematic glories. With “The Last Airbender,” I will give him credit for stepping far outside of his comfort zone with his live action adaptation of an epic animated series but it ultimately failed due to stagnant storytelling and shockingly atrocious acting. As for “Devil,” I also applaud him for desiring to create a new anthology series by which he would farm out his original story ideas to up and coming writers and filmmakers. But, that film fell short as the actual screen, not written by Shyamalan was painfully obvious robbing it of any real suspense or tension. And frankly, the film’s trailer made for a better movie than the actual movie. So, for 2010, M. Night Shyamalan released two major disappointments, the very kind that will further make it difficult for him to re-earn the good graces and former glory from audiences and critics.
“SHUTTER ISLAND” Directed by Martin Scorsese
Cinematic master Scorsese delivered a top tier production, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, with his requisite filmmaking excellence that is nearly untouchable. Unfortunately, it was all in service to a story, and an ending in particular, that was supremely unconvincing. I have seen this film twice and each time the experience was akin to viewing a magic show given by the world’s best magician, and yet, you could still see through all of the tricks, smoke and mirrors.
This film was actually one of the sequels I was most anxious to see in 2010 as the subject matter of our nation’s financial crisis would provide one of my favorite filmmakers an excellent platform to again examine our country while also updating his 1987 classic. Unfortunately, and despite the noble effort and a terrific performance from Michael Douglas, it was quite the sleepy affair made all the more ponderous through its somewhat manufactured presentation as a “zeitgeist” movie rather than operating and a pitch like the original film’s organic stature. It was just too somnambulant a film when it should have contained a more elegant rage.
THE DISHONORABLE (the ones I REALLY HATED)
“ALICE IN WONDERLAND” Directed by Tim Burton
A bloated, emotionless CGI wasteland that had no sense of wonder, terror, imaginative spirit or even a trace of Director Tim Burton’s trademark enormous creativity. It was a heartless wasted opportunity of a movie that was actually so much of a “paycheck movie” that it seemed as if Burton and the faceless suits as Disney personally pilfered my wallet. It was miserable and easily one of Burton’s very worst films.
“THE BOOK OF ELI” Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes
Out of most of the films I saw within the past year, this religiously themed western/post-apocalyptic exercise was one of the worst. Yes, it is stylish. Yes, Denzel Washington remains incapable of giving a performance not worth watching. But, what completely sunk this movie was its preposterous twist ending. In addition to the conclusion being sloppily revealed, it suggested a weight, reverence and significance it had not earned during any point in the film up to that point. I’m sorry but you cannot have a film with this type of bargain basement dialogue and this type of cardboard cut-out characters and in the final two minutes, decide that you are serious. It was a film that was as disingenuous as it was stupid.
“COP OUT” Directed by Kevin Smith
From one of the most unique and original voices currently working in cinema today came a film so shockingly lifeless and humorless. Despite an opening sequence that still makes me laugh and laugh hard, and Tracy Morgan’s obvious enthusiasm and commitment, everything in this movie is negligible—most notably Bruce Willis’ visible contempt for the entire proceedings. While Director Adam McKay's “The Other Guys” (2010) showed that there can still be vibrant life within the buddy cop action comedy genre, Smith’s “Cop Out” was a giant sized effort showing why that genre should be retired for good. I am pulling for Smith to regain his footing creatively with his final two films before his announced retirement from directing. I guess if I made “Cop Out,” I’d want to retire too.
“DATE NIGHT” Directed by Shawn Levy
What a wasted opportunity this film was as it painfully squandered the immense talents of Steve Carell and Tina Fey in a bone-headed and lead-footed story about mistaken identity and the supposed “hilarity” that ensues when harried, bored married couple steal another couple’s table at a ritzy restaurant only to embark upon a night long adventure. Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest and why the filmmakers decided upon a film so ridiculously convoluted and bland over the riskier and more original idea of just placing these two on a date night is beyond me.
“DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS” Directed by Jay Roach
Good GOD, was this a terrible movie!!! Steve Carell truly needs to find a new agent after starring in this criminally unfunny remake of a French film where rising executive (Paul Rudd) needs to bring a doofus (Carell) to an exclusive party solely for public ridicule to ensure a much coveted promotion. It was a turgidly paced screwball comedy filled with the types of characters that ONLY exist in the movies…albeit, and usually, terrible movies like this one. Worst of all, the film had the audacity to include a hackneyed and completely false third act lesson of sappy sentiment scolding the rich fat cats, as well as the audience, for laughing at the very characters that are designed and meant for us to laugh at in the first place. This was cinematic garbage and believe me when I say that out of this nearly two hour train wreck, I only laughed once.
“EAT PRAY LOVE” Co-Written and Directed by Ryan Murphy
Out of all of the movie reviews I have written that I know people have actually read, this one probably received the most passionate response from you-from supporters as well as detractors. With all due respect given to the people who do indeed love this film with their being, I stand by my review when I say how much I hated this experience. With a modicum of doubt placed upon the source material, since I have not read it, I strongly feel that ”Glee” creator Ryan Murphy and star Julia Roberts were just the wrong people to represent Elizabeth Gilbert’s inner journey to spiritual transcendence. As is stands for me, “Eat Pray Love” ended up being nothing more than an interminable two and a half hour pity party for a privileged white woman on a year long vacation with spiritual transcendence nowhere to be seen or felt in any conceivable fashion.
“THE KARATE KID” Directed by Harald Zwart
Now, granted, this film is not unwatchable by any means. It’s OK and possibly it is a little bit better than it has any right to be. The reason I have placed the re-make of “The Karate Kid” on this list is that there is truly no reason for this film to exist at all as it is veritably unchanged from the classic original except for location and the racial make ups of the cast. It is a movie that completely illustrated Hollywood’s amazing lack of originality. Honestly, did the filmmakers think that they could take the Oscar nominated original film and make it better?!
Here was another film that was defended quite a bit by some of you and wile I do appreciate the discussion and enthusiasm on your part, I have to respectfully disagree. The story of a collective of retired CIA veterans all called back into active duty was a wasted opportunity fueled by movie star egos at play at our expense. This movie was the epitome of lazy, uninspired writing, direction and acting all the way around in a film that should have been roaring, frisky, exciting entertainment. Some of you explained to me that actors really do not need to turn themselves inside and out for every single movie that they make. That they should just be allowed to have some fun once in awhile. I completely agree with you especially as a film like “Ocean’s Eleven” for instance, is a perfect example of actors having a great time in a light footed film that is also prime, excellent entertainment. But for me, when their fun is at my expense, especially in a movie they obviously and absolutely have no confidence in, it is inexcusable. Bruce Willis, again is the worst culprit. Look dear readers, if he, or any actor of their caliber is able to command 20 million dollars a movie and they feel like “slacking off” a bit, then…DON’T MAKE A MOVIE!
...and now, the WORST film I saw in 2010...
“KICK-ASS” Co-Written and Directed by Matthew Vaughn
I know this film was a big box office hit. I know that the inevitable sequel is in the works. I know that many of you really liked or even loved this movie and that’s just wonderful for you. I really mean that. But for me, there was no other film I hated more than this one during the past year.
It would have already earned this slot due to its complete failure as a comic book film, a teen comedy an even as a dark satire, as it had no idea of what it was satirizing in the first place. “Kick-Ass” was an insufferable, self-congratulatory, pseudo-“edgy” exercise in desensitized cool as it was all filtered through a horrible presentation that had no sense of tone. Yet, what really sent it over the cliff into the cinematic abyss was the completely distasteful depiction of the pre-pubescent psychopath known as Hit Girl (played by Chloe Grace Moretz).
Once again, a few of you valiantly defended this character to me by expounding upon the idea of “Kick-Ass” presenting a world where the violence is gritty and real and that this world is no place for children and blah, blah, blah. All I know is that by using this 11-year-old girl to utter the film’s harshest profanities and having her commit the most brutal acts of violence in the entire film, this character, that began as a sick gimmick, quickly turned to exploitation. The climax, involving a battle between Hit Girl and the film’s main villain was so brutal, ugly, repugnant and downright irresponsible. I’m sorry, dear readers, but even if it works as an illustration in a comic book that doesn’t mean the same thing will work with real life flesh and blood human beings. The sight of an adult man beating the hell out of an 11-year-old girl and then shoving a gun in her face, ready to blast her brains out, was sickening and inexcusable.
This was, without question, the very worst film I saw in 2010 and you know, I just have to go one further. Nearly ten years from now when I create my next “Time Capsule” series marking the very best and worst from the decade of 2010-2019, this film will easily be there.
Aaaahhhhhh! I feel soooo much better now.
Stay tuned for Part Four, my TOP TEN FAVORITE FILMS OF 2010!!!!
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Written by Duane Dell’Amico & Roger Hedden & Neal Jimenez & Joe Keenan & Rory Kelly & Michael Steinberg
Directed by Rory Kelly
As much as I would consider myself to possess a certain high level of romanticism, I am actually not that much of a fan of movie love stories.
I would suppose that for my personal sensibilities, movie love stories often tend to feel trite, hackneyed, commonplace, stale and at their worst, just so pedestrian, emotionally false and too corny to be swept away by. With movie after movie that features a love story, I tend to not feel terribly attached to the goings on between the two souls circling each other and destined to join together in the final reel. This is mostly because I am very aware of movie conventions and know firmly that the union must occur just because the script says so. More intensely, I rarely feel that the emotions depicted upon the screen properly emulate emotions in the real world, making for film romances that just feel too easy when I would prefer something a bit tougher, messier and presented with more urgency, euphoria or sorrow or something that makes the romance a bit more hard fought.
Of course there have been many films and filmmakers that have spoken to me very deeply and have continued to resonate over the years. For example and certainly my heroes John Hughes and Cameron Crowe, time and again, delivered a cinematic romanticism that straddled the fence between fantasy and unshakeable emotional truth with unapologetic sympathy, elegance, bravado and a heart as open and as wide as the sky.
Kevin Smith’s controversial “Chasing Amy” (1997), one of his very best films, was a love story that left me exhausted in its wake and in the most positive and satisfying way. The emotional messiness in the love triangle relationship between comic book writer/artist Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck), his writing/illustrating partner Banky Edwards (Jason Lee) and Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams), the lesbian comic book writer/illustrator he falls in love with was an undeniably fresh experience that burst through all of the clichés of the romance genre. It was completely uncompromising and felt so brutally honest in its depiction of the difficult levels of friendship, love and human sexuality while also being extremely funny with its brilliantly written and gleefully graphic dialogue.
Sometimes, the epic sweep of a film can send messages of romance through me like a tidal wave and in places so unexpected as Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” (2004) and Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) are recent examples. And in my Time Capsule series from last year, I listed Michel Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind” (2004) as the past decade’s best love story as it delved so beautifully into the nature of how and why we all fall in love and how our perceptions and memories are often unreliable. It was the film that asked the question of whether the person we love is exactly as they exist or who we perceive them to be. Not the sort of depth you usually tend to witness, especially if it is a film starring someone like Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Aniston or Kate Hudson.
For this special Valentine’s Day edition of my ”Buried Treasure” series, I am happy to point you to a small independent film from Director Rory Kelly entitled “Sleep With Me,” the story of an unusual love triangle starring Eric Stoltz, Craig Sheffer and Meg Tilly. While somewhat unassuming and not necessarily designed for mass appeal, the film is wry, quite talkative and deeply perceptive. And within its brisk 86 minute running time, “Sleep With Me” presents engaging characters, filled with dry and sardonic quips masking tender emotional wounds making a film that ultimately explores the nature of young relationships and marriage in particular. With Kelly’s quiet, unforced direction steering the production, what we have is a sharp romantic comedy that works well as an antidote to the glut of brainless big budget fluff being released week to week in our multiplexes.
Reuniting after their work together in John Hughes and Howard Deutch’s lovely and underrated “Some Kind Of Wonderful” (1987), Stoltz and Sheffer star as friends and former college roommates, Joseph, a landscaper and Frank, wayward, lonely and unemployed. The third figure in this love triangle is Sarah (Meg Tilly), a schoolteacher who happens to be Joseph’s longtime on again/off again girlfriend and at the start of the film has accepted Joseph’s marriage proposal during a road trip. The catch is that Frank has been nursing a long running and deeply felt love for Sarah while Sarah cannot deny an attraction to Frank.
The film charts the course of this love triangle almost strictly through a series of social events between the threesome and their circle of friends (the aforementioned road trip, two card games, an afternoon wedding rehearsal party, a summertime barbecue, an Sunday afternoon get-together and a climactic house party). Secrets are confessed. Boundaries are crossed. Relationships are tested. And all the while, Joseph, Frank and Sarah begin to take their respective baby steps into the world of adult relationships as they each learn the responsibilities inherent to those relationships.
The most unique facet of "Sleep With Me" is that the film carries no less than six screenwriters. While the style of the film is not so complicated where it needed six brains to piece it all together, what this film accomplishes, I think is pretty ingenious as each writer handles one particular social events in the film. This technique is actually carried off so effortlessly and seamlessly that it never once calls attention to itself in a negative, ponderous or self-congratulatory way. Kelly, his writers and cast have truly mined the nature of this triangle in a realistic fashion as “Sleep With Me,” while exhibiting some slapstick moments, never dissolves into cartoonish antics and behavior that can only exist in the movies due to some prefabricated flash.
In addition to the terrific trio of leading performances (of which I will return to shortly), “Sleep With Me” also features terrific performances from the entire supporting cast including Todd Field, Dean Cameron as a wheelchair bound friend who seriously enjoys his poker games and Joey Lauren Adams and Parker Posey, as two friends who nearly derail that aforementioned card game. And if this film is famous for anything at all, it is for a section of the house party sequence starring none other than Quentin Tarantino who hilariously espouses his views on how “Top Gun” (1986) is actually the greatest homoerotic masterpiece of its time! He and the observations of that film are so brilliant you will not see it in the same way ever again!
The usually sensitive and mild mannered Eric Stoltz is a surprise in this film as he displays an unusual amount of prickliness and reaches unprecedented levels of anger and recrimination. His character of Joseph is hot tempered, even during those card games (he cannot stand innocuous “table talk”) and usually possesses a certain cavalier wit that comes off as coldly unsympathetic. By the time Frank’s love for Sarah is revealed during a alcohol fueled house party, Stoltz always finds convincing levels of jealousy, betrayal, suspicion, and romantic paranoia that is justified as well as being understandably oft-putting to Sarah. In some ways, Joseph is hard to love as in addition to his temper and possessiveness, he seems to lack the tenderness that Sarah enjoys in Frank. Joseph is the kind of man who would get blindingly drunk at his own wedding rehearsal party, rendering him incapacitated. he is also the type of man who would publicly call out his wife for her transgressions. But, again, Stoltz makes him understandable and compelling.
Craig Sheffer’s Frank and his level of obsessiveness would be downright creepy if Sheffer was not able to discover the correct romantic tone to play. Frank is indeed a heart-on-sleeve romantic who is ruled by his emotions and just cannot help himself. Rational thought is simply lost on this man as he foolishly pursues the married Sarah. But, in some ways, you almost cannot blame him as Sarah does send him a series of mixed messages that begins with a romantic confession from her on the eve of her wedding, continues with a shared kiss and culminates in a surprising erotic act. Sarah’s confusion and attraction to Frank, with his more sensitive qualities and little boy lost demeanor, fuels Frank while also confusing and devastating him. He is a man, while not faultless in his actions and how they affect a marriage, but he is not entirely to blame either. He is the man who knows in the deepest parts o his heart that the chemistry between himself and Sarah is real and that knowledge is what causes his undoing within the social structure of their friends.
As Sarah, Meg Tilly is no faceless female or bland object of desire. You can easily see why both men are in love with her as she does carry a quiet sultriness, an alluring intelligence and an inner resolve where we can see and understand what she sees in both men, why she would marry Joseph and why she would find herself bewitched by Frank’s adoration. Her attraction to Frank is obviously due to the fact that she enjoys his attentiveness, is enchanted by his romanticism and how he hangs upon her every word, especially in ways Joseph does not seem to. In fact, Sarah’s confusion and struggle seems to speak for the collective struggle of all of the film’s characters in regard to adult relationships. And this is where this seemingly small film shows its larger ambitions.
During a section in the film’s midpoint, the action drifts away from the members of the love triangle and extends to their friends, which includes aspiring screenwriter Duane (Todd Field) and his acerbic wife Deborah (Susan Traylor), British married couple Nigel and Amy (Thomas Gibson and Amaryllis Borrego), the tender hearted Rory (Tegan West) and the acerbic Leo (Dean Cameron). With this group, “Sleep With Me” extends itself from romantic comedy by richly capturing the angst, longing, wistfulness and restlessness of the 20s in ways that the odious “Reality Bites” (1994) could not even hope to depict realistically. For a film this nuanced and as much as it is a film about falling in love, “Sleep With Me” works best as film about staying in love, especially when all of the protagonists are just beginning to figure out their respective stations in the world as well as with each other. As Duane and Joseph share a cigarette after the disastrous house party where Frank has openly expressed his love for Sarah, Duane expresses, after Deborah has paged him from the house interior, “Sometimes I get sick of hearing the sound of my own name.” With that one line, we are witness to the growing pains inside young marriages as the realization of the necessary work involved with maintaining relationships has taken hold, forcing them all into adulthood.
"Sleep With Me" is not a film that will change the world or alter your perceptions but it is a very good film that I have returned to over and again over the years (usually and surprisingly whenever I have been forced to stay at home from work due to illness--it is a great "comfort movie" for me). I am so happy to share this film with you and I encourage you to try and seek it out, not only for this Valentine's Day, but for anytime at all when you are seeking a good love story, especially one that is more realistic, unique, urgent and as heartfelt as this one.
Monday, February 7, 2011
2010 IN REVIEW PART TWO: "NUMBER 11"
“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART ONE” Directed by David Yates
The end of the saga of the teenaged wizard is halfway completed with this appropriately grim and poetic penultimate film that thrusts the trio of Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) front and center more than ever and they are beautifully up to the challenge at hand. Yates’ somber, sinister and always emotional direction has truly hit my sweet spot as far as this wonderful series is concerned. He has shown, so seemingly effortlessly, how big budget films designed for the masses need not be dumbed down, shrill, or numbingly bombastic. That at their best, big budget, special effects laden films can be supremely artful. Yates’ ode to friendship at the apparent end of the world not only adapts J.K. Rowling’s original novel beautifully and faithfully, it is an empathetically artful experience. I know how this story completes itself and I am still extremely anxious to see the final film this July.
To be released on DVD this April
“LENNONYC” Written and Directed by Michael Epstein
The life of John Lennon after The Beatles is explored in this stunning, eye-opening documentary which was a vibrantly emotional travelogue into the evolution of a man. The film also worked beautifully as one of the year’s top two love stories as we delve deeper into the romance of Lennon and Yoko Ono, and witness how their relationship weaved its way into the artfully timeless music of which we are now all familiar. With additional assistance through unprecedented access to archived and previously unreleased studio chatter and home movies provided by Ono, “LENNONYC” amazingly creates a new portrait of a nearly mythical figure by making him so recognizably human.
Available on DVD
“NEVER LET ME GO” Directed by Mark Romanek
Based upon the celebrated novel by Kazou Ishiguru, this deliberately paced, crystalline film tells the story of three friends (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly and Andrew Garfield) bound together by a tragic reality (of which I will not spoil here) and how that knowledge effects the trajectory of their young lives. This is a science-fiction film without special effects or graphic violence of any kind yet the cumulative effect is devastating. Not every film released need not be hyperbolic or operate as a bludgeon. Sometimes, the technique of the “slow burn” builds to a undeniable haunting power that burrows under your skin and refuses to leave once you exit the theater. Romanek has given us such a film that philosophically asks the some of our grandest questions concerning our overall humanity through a poetically lyrical style that elegantly engages us with the fragility of life.
Available on DVD
“PLEASE GIVE” Written and Directed by Nicole Holofcener
A highly entertaining, complex and passionate dark comedy featuring a collective of characters who anesthetize their own various states of spiritual decay with emotional band-aids like endless tanning, purchasing and re-selling furniture from the recently deceased, doling out money to the homeless and for one teenaged character, a deeply coveted $235 pair of jeans. Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall and Oliver Platt give excellent, understated performances which are never condescending or judgmental. Holofcener has delivered her best film to date which includes her trademark unblinking razor sharp dialogue.
Available on DVD
“WAITING FOR ‘SUPERMAN’” Co-Written and Directed by Davis Guggenheim
This is the one film released in 2010 that truly hurt to leave off of the final Top Ten list as I feel that it is essential viewing. While some would describe this documentary, decrying the current status of our nation’ declining educational system, as dismissively “muckracking,” I found it to be appropriately incendiary. Guggenheim has completely designed his film to engage, incite and rally viewers to truly think about ALL of our nation’s children in regards to the level and quality of education they receive (or don't receive) and the ruthless unfairness that any child would have to be placed into an unforgiving lottery system that could arbitrarily determine their future. Our children deserve infinitely better, Guggenheim argues and I would challenge you to think otherwise after watching this film. But, you first have to go out and WATCH THIS FILM! It is disheartening, overwhelming and fueled with moral outrage. And yet, hope exists as witnessed through inspiring educators like the loquacious Geoffrey Canada, who has vowed to see every child within a 97-block Harlem neighborhood graduate from college. But, he cannot accomplish this feat alone. Our children are looking to all of us.
Available on DVD
Stay tuned for Part Three...The Disappointments and the Dishonorable!!!
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Written, Produced and Directed by James L. Brooks
Just as with countless teenagers as their careers in high school are nearing their transition into the college years, I was asked as often as I could remember by nearly every adult figure I knew, what exactly would I choose as my major. For every one that inquired, I always elicited the same answer: journalism. In many ways, and as I would presume for most teenagers, I really had no idea of what I would want major in during college and “journalism” was simply something to say, an answer to give just so the questions would cease to be asked. Yet, the idea of journalism did intrigue me. Very much actually as I loved words, knew that I had more of an aptitude with language than I ever did with either mathematics and the sciences and I liked the idea of somehow piecing the right words together to create some effective, new…something.
During my Senior Year of high school, I decided to give myself a challenge. I enrolled in my school’s Journalism class, which provided students with the opportunity to write for our school newspaper, The Midway. This was not an easy class, by any means, as my curmudgeonly, intimidating instructor was nothing less than demanding as he refused to accept anything less than excellence and extracting praise from him was indeed a rare feat. When you did happen not receive that hard fought for praise, it felt as if you had successfully scaled a mountain. My life on The Midway was incredibly fruitful as I discovered how much I not only enjoyed the class, the back breaking work in writing, and re-writing and re-writing effective news stories for the school paper was unquestionably satisfying. Aside from ascending to the position of Page Editor after writing only two stories, the experience transformed me in ways I really could not articulate. What I knew unequivocally was that it was one of the few times during my teen years where I felt that I was good at something.
My thoughts and somewhat serious ruminations over Journalism as a potential field of study were firmly in my brain as I ventured into the movie theater during the Christmas season of 1987 to view “Broadcast News,” the then new and highly acclaimed motion picture for Writer/Producer/Director James L. Brooks, his second directorial feature after the award winning and still influential “Terms Of Endearment” (1983). I loved this movie upon first viewing as it spoke to my heart as a writer and for giving me a window into the world of journalism. The humor was incredibly sharp, the dialogue sharper and the film’s love triangle gave me a rare adult move romance that stung, hurt and felt so true even though I was just 18 at the time. While I had already been a major fan of actor William Hurt as well as the nuanced, neurotic humor of Albert Brooks (no relation) and loved seeing both of them, what really made my head spin was the mesmerizing, force of nature performance from the diminutive powerhouse that is Holly Hunter as the ferociously driven news producer Jane Craig.
I have seen “Broadcast News” many, many times over the years, with each viewing gaining in an undeniable strength that I now firmly believe it to be one of the very best films from the 1980s. What was once meticulously insightful and wholly impressive has become downright prophetic as the film now serves as an artifact of the time when the popularity of cable news and the 24 hour news cycle was about to erupt, as well as when hard news became infotainment and the internet had not existed. What brings me to revisiting “Broadcast News” for you, dear readers, is that the film has been newly remastered and re-released on DVD through The Criterion Collection, the home video distribution organization that is widely regarded as setting the gold standard in the beautiful preservation of classic films. This sparkling new DVD features the first ever film commentary for this feature from James L. Brooks and of course, the requisite plethora of behind the scenes segments, including an alternate ending. I sincerely urge you to view this wondrous film again, if you have seen it. And if you have never seen this film, I am more than certain that you will find so very much to satisfy you as “Broadcast News” is an intelligent piece of work that is also deeply romantic, extremely funny and enormously entertaining.
“Broadcast News” opens with a brief and hilariously perceptive prologue, which depicts the early pre-teen/teenaged lives of our respective future news anchor Tom Grunick (William Hurt), future news reporter Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) and future news producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter). The film then smoothly segues to the (then) present day as Jane and Aaron, now best friends, are both employed at the Washington bureau of an unnamed network. Both Jane and Aaron are the epitome of integrity in regards to the reporting and dissemination of the day’s national news, eschewing anything that hints at the creeping frivolity and entertainment aspect of the news industry that threatens to eclipse all journalistic substance.
At a broadcaster’s conference, where Jane has disastrously failed with a ponderously dry speech extolling the dangers of journalism’s disintegration in favor of extending the network’s bottom line and ratings glory, she meets Tom Grunick, an affable, attractive news anchor who introduces himself as one who was indeed impressed by Jane’s speech and passionate tenacity. Sensing an attraction, Jane invites Tom to dinner and subsequent trip back to her hotel room when she is angrily stunned to discover that Tom unfortunately represents everything she finds dangerous in the evolution of television news. Tom shamefully and openly admits to being fairly uneducated, that he possesses an inability to write or report, that he does not understand the very news he delivers on-air and as he states, “I’m making a fortune.” To make matters even worse, Tom has just been hired at Jane and Aaron’s network as a new anchor. Tom’s presence as the new beautiful face of the news places Jane’s sexual attraction towards Tom at odds with her journalistic integrity and also creates seething, sarcastic jealously from Aaron, who deeply resents Tom’s arrival professionally and romantically, as Aaron has been nursing a long unrequited love for Jane.
From this point, “Broadcast News” is a series of smoothly connected vignettes of office politics, massive budgetary cutbacks and devastating firings, and the feverish pursuit of the story from conception through writing, reporting, editing and nightly nationwide transmission, with the triangle of Tom, Jane and Aaron as the centerpiece. All three characters are confronted with their triumphs and failings while all are on the search for a variety of truths: investigative and internal.
For me, “Broadcast News” is the career highlight and crown jewel of James L. Brooks' career as a filmmaker as I feel his writing, direction and ability to juggle a complex collection of themes and emotions has been unmatched ever since. Unlike his much celebrated but seriously overrated “As Good As It Gets” (1997), none of the characters in this film, from the major to supporting players, ever exists as a type or could simply be described in nothing more than three words. These are people, as unique and as internally confused and compelling as anyone in the audience. These characters are all armed with their individualized sets of interpersonal and professional beliefs and demons and they all find themselves consistently in the state of having those beliefs challenged, forcing the characters to keep revealing themselves to each other, themselves and the audience.
Brooks’ obviously meticulous research into the television news industry is impeccable and placed to brilliant usage throughout his excellent screenplay. Sometimes this feat occurs in a few swift, expertly placed lines of beautiful dialogue that perfectly grounds the audience into understanding the larger picture, the wider backdrop, the greater world in which these characters hope to understand a little better through their work and relationships.
I loved this one short sequence where Aaron and a small group of reports are biding a few moments of time weighing the moral implications of hypothetical television news scenarios. As his colleagues quickly state that they would each televise a live execution without hesitation, Aaron quips, “Well, there’s nothing like wrestling with a moral dilemma, isn’t it?”
Another great, quick moment occurs during a sequence where our journalists are rushed into action by presenting a live news report concerning a Libyan attack on an American air base featuring Tom as sole news anchor. At the special report’s conclusion, Tom injects the simple admission, “In other words, I think we’re OK.” To which his Bureau Chief (the wonderful Robert Prosky) remarks to himself, “Who cares what you think?!”
Even deeper, there exists a crucial storyline involving Tom’s questionable handling of a date rape piece which also sets the romantic portion of the film into an upheaval. These are just a few of many moments and sequences sprinkled throughout the film that gives “Broadcast News” a profound moral weight and while creating a journalistic atmosphere I am curious even exists in the same way or at all today outside of public radio, the internet and through the work of some high profile comedians. As I watch this film now in 2011, I could help but to wonder just how these characters would have handled something like, the OJ Simpson story, or even the national tragedy of September 11th and subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As Aaron and Jane are obviously from the virtuous school of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite and Tom represents the more vapid nature of the future, I found it ingenious at how brooks was able to weave a person’s political beliefs and ethics into a love story. The real world romance of Democrat James Carville and Republican Mary Matalin has always confounded me as I just cannot see how one could be married to another person who sees the world in a profoundly different or even entirely opposite way. Tom’s charisma, attractiveness and polish can serve how the news is elicited through television but if there is all style and no substance, what could that mean when those visual positives merge and clash with differing professional and private views. This is what makes the love story of “Broadcast News” so special as it is decidedly messy and romantic decisions lead to deeply true consequences.
This may seem like a bizarre comparison to many of you but to this day, as I view the love triangle of “Broadcast News,” I am reminded heavily of none other than John Hughes and Howard Deutch’s aching teen romance in “Pretty In Pink”(1986). When I first saw the film, the romantic dynamic of Tom, Jane and Aaron made me think instantly of the dynamic between flawed golden boy Blaine (Andrew McCarthy), steadfast, virtuous heroine Andie (Molly Ringwald) and geeky best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer) and that feeling still holds true to me, especially as I am now in the early stages of middle age. Brooks’ effortlessly depicts how the social romantic rules of the high school hallways continues onward, and painfully, well into adulthood. Furthermore, in both films, the romantic triangle plays into the larger questions of each character’s sense of humanity. This quality gives the love story an added dimension and a richness that never delves into convoluted shenanigans. Brooks presents these qualities, again, through his extremely perceptive screenplay and powerfully through the terrific performances from his three leads.
While every performance in this film is first rate and complimentary of each other, making for a dream team of an ensemble, the triumvirate of Hurt, Brooks and Hunter is peerless. As I have stated on this site once before, I was always amazed with William Hurt’s ability to constant ability to find the souls of the faceless men who wear business suits and his portrayal of Tom Grunick is no exception and for me, one of his very best.
Tom Grunick is a shrewd professional and business world B.M.O.C. while also being self-conscious enough to realize that at this Washington news bureau, he is professionally out of his league. While he is rather dim in understanding the content of the news he reports, he is extreme savvy in how it is presented, the appearance of seriousness, and being the precursor to the current new model of having anchors elicit more personality, sometimes injecting themselves into the stories. Spending more time choosing the shirt and tie to wear on camera than on the content of the news itself, Tom is more than self-aware enough to know how he is being perceived by others and cunning enough to know how the game is played professionally, a knowledge that leads him into ethically murky waters.
He knows how to use his natural sexual appeal for his own gain, a knowledge that confuses Jane Craig, who is deeply attracted and troubled by him. While Aaron refers to him as “the devil” to Jane, Tom Grunick is never deliberately nefarious as his consistent lack of guile and occasional conversations with his Father demonstrate. He is far from heartless and in many ways, he tends to project a certain innocence. He is the golden boy grown up and rising rapidly in a world he does not even fully understand, yet he will always land on his feet. And it is an incredible sight to see how complicated this character has remained after all of these years especially as he remains sympathetic even when he is unethical.
By contrast, Albert Brooks’ hilarious, empathetic, and bristling portrayal of Aaron Altman is the geek made good as he has indeed lived up to his own adolescent claim that he would eventually end up seeing “the whole damn world!” Yet, even well into adulthood, he is unappreciated and remains somewhat socially awkward as he still feels compelled to shove his intellect into proceedings designed to make himself feel superior. Even when he is alone in his apartment drunkenly singing in French or exclaiming how he can sing and read simultaneously, he is always that socially awkward child prodigy asserting himself and his self-worth when no one else could care less. His prickly sardonic humor and inner rage is nothing more than a deceptively secretive shield for his cloaked fragile spirit, which fears that despite all of his immense talent, skill, and dedication, he will never be given the recognition due to him or the promotion he deserves, and he’ll never get the girl he loves most. Essentially, he will never be the “Prom King.” And yet, when given the opportunity to grab the brass ring, Aaron faces humiliation by seeking the professional advice from Tom, a person he completely disrespects. And then, there is the great “flop sweat” sequence where Aaron is finally given the chance to anchor the nightly news, the results are comically catastrophic.
All of those combined qualities infuse the unrequited romance he shares with Jane with huge amounts of knowing pain, especially as he (and the audience) realizes more and more how perfect they seem to be for each other. Sadly and despite their endless late night phone calls, complete understanding of each other as well as their interlocking professional convictions, she will never love him as he lacks that secret ingredient, that certain je ne sais quoi that would allow him to sweep Jane off of her feet. The wounded venom he hurls at her in the film’s later sequences, again sows Aaron’s peerless gift with words as they are so carefully chosen to sting, in the present as well as linger in Jane’s heart well into the future. (And if my “Pretty In Pink” comparison still sounds odd to you, try watching the later scenes between Aaron and Jane and not think of Duckie Dale’s anger and hurt when Andie rejects him for a date with Blaine! The emotions are exactly the same.)
At the outset of this review, I mentioned that Holly Hunter mesmerized me. For me, Hunter performance, combined with Brooks’ brilliant writing, created one of the most realistic modern day career women I have seen in any Hollywood film. And it is saddening to notice that this representation continues to be a rare sight on our movie screens in the 21st century (although, nipping at her heels are the two women, played by Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick respectively in Jason Reitman’s “Up In The Air” from 2009). Jane Craig carries the shield and sword for integrity and honestly in the world of broadcasting and professionalism while also being romantically challenged. "I'm beginning to repel people I'm trying to seduce," she states plainly to Aaron after Tom has departed her hotel room after a brutal scolding from her regarding his lack of journalistic comprehension (“What do you want?! Permission from me to be a fake?! Stop whining! Do something about it!”). Yet Jane Craig is no clichéd film version of a serious, intelligent, passionate career woman who cannot find love. No Katherine Heigle, Sandra Bullock inanities are on sight in any way.
Jane Craig is a professional with fiercely high expectations for herself and her team yet she is supportive, encouraging, validating and more than willing to carry the burden upon herself in order to best serve the news. She is doggedly in control (as in sequences where she rapidly instructs cab drivers of the fastest, best routes) but to a potentially detrimental degree. In a now classic moment set during the film’s opening credits, we see how Jane daily schedules a finite time for a crying breakdown. Jane checks her watch, unplugs her telephone and settles in for a deep, heaving sob, finally allowing herself to succumb to the stress and lack of control she really has over her life and the world at large. And then, just as quickly, she stops crying and moves along her day full speed ahead. It is a stunningly honest moment that I am certain is able to speak to so many of us who are constantly trying to fit it all in and be all things to all people, and always being remarkable in the process.
One of the film’s greatest lines of dialogue occurs during a heated exchange between Jane and Paul, the President of the News Division (a terrific Peter Hackes). After the decision has been made to place Tom in the anchor chair for that aforementioned Special Report instead of the more informed Aaron, Jane fights for Aaron’s inclusion to which Paul curtly disagrees. As Jane continues to challenge him, Paul in a fit of scorching sarcasm states to Jane, “It must be wonderful feeling that you’re the smartest person in the room. It must be wonderful always feeling that you know best!” And with honest solemnity, as tears are just threatening to peek behind her steely eyes, Jane exclaims, “No, it’s awful!”
As previously stated, Jane is confronted with her greatest lack of control during her romance with Tom as she finds herself sexually attracted and potentially falling in love with a man who represents the opposite of her core beliefs. Her emotions simply run away with her, weakening her resolve and even allowing Tom to wrestle control from her in a variety of conversations and situations (perhaps Tom is unwilling to receive another tongue-lashing from her again). The fiery Jane is over and again disarmed and, at times, dismissed by his cool demeanor, forcing her to pause which ultimately confuses her and makes her question if the inherent compromises of adult relationships would in turn compromise her political beliefs, chipping away at them over time bit by little bit, leaving an unrecognizable person in its wake. Holly Hunter is absolutely masterful and as I have watched this film again just the other night, I really wish that Hollywood had given her more opportunities to play characters as gripping as Jane Craig.
My career in journalism ended before it ever began as my interest in the field waned considerably as I realized that pursuing an education within that filed would constitute a series of legal courses that I really was not interested in. I just loved words and the art of piecing them together. I didn’t love the news, so to speak, and truth be told, I don’t think I would have had the proper heart for that industry anyway. With “Broadcast News,” I suppose some of my enjoyment is because I could vicariously live out some of my fantasies. But, what brings me to this film over and over and over is its supreme confidence, artistry, skill, and seemingly effortless ability to entertain while presenting provocative themes and a realistic love triangle.
“Broadcast News” is entertainment of the highest order, a superlative, sublime experience whose deep rewards have continued for me for over 20 years. It is essential viewing tht never loses any of its luster.
Quite the contrary, the grand artistic sheen of James L. Brooks' "Broadcast News" only gains in its brightness and improves with its age, making it a fine document of a particular place and time while also existing as a work that is nothing less than timeless.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
For the first installment of my "2010 In Review" series, I am so excited to give you my official "Honor Roll," all of the films released in 2010 to which I awarded a rating of three and a half stars out of a possible four stars.
As always, I want for you to know that I am not presenting this list as a form of declaring myself as some sort of film expert or that these selections are, without question, the "BEST" or "WORST." As I have said many times, I am not qualified to make that sort of an assessment as I have not seen all of the films released during the year, nor would I have wanted to!
These films, of which you will see over the course of four installments, are just my personal favorite and least favorites. That's it. That's all. And as always, dear readers, I hope you enjoy it!
Full reviews of all of the featured films in this series are housed in their entirety on this site, if you so wish to read the longer versions. if you do not know where to find it, just let me know and I'll hook you up!
So...without further hesitation...
2010 IN REVIEW PART ONE: THE HONOR ROLL (in alphabetical order)
“CYRUS” Written and Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass
The poignant, humane dark comedy about a long divorced, lonely, sad sack film editor (John C. Reilly) who finally finds love with a sharply alluring woman (Marisa Tomei) only to have her 21 year old son (Jonah Hill) devise emotional conflict. This is a film without villains and treats these characters and their situations as they might occur in a real world setting. “Cyrus” is a film where the comedy is weaved inside of the characters and their behavior, making for a more mature, humane film than it may seem to be from its advertisements.
Available on DVD
“THE EXPENDABLES” Co-Written and Directed by Sylvester Stallone
High octane, high adventure and extremely high testosterone meet up in a highly ridiculous adventure involving a crew of sensitive psychotic mercenaries played by Stallone, Jason Statham and a host of action heroes and villains from the 1980s. For a movie that really isn’t very good at all, with its messy ultra-violence and even messier and extremely chaotic filmmaking, I was enormously entertained. And Lord help me, I am actually ready for a second installment.
Available on DVD
“GET HIM TO THE GREEK” Written and Directed by Nicholas Stoller
This spin off from Stoller's “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2008) is a music industry set comedy with a young intern (Jonah Hill) desperately trying to deliver uncontrollable drug addled rock legend Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) from England to Los Angeles for a 10th anniversary rock concert. Tis film more than fulfilled its promise of outrageous and defiantly R Rated comedy, besting “The Hangover” (2009) in every way. As with so many films that I enjoyed in 2010, “Get Him To The Greek” has even more on its mind than unbridled hilarity as it also functions as a cautionary tale of the Hollywood life and the soullessness contained within. Yes, some reviews were a bit put off with its third act sentimentality but I appreciated again how Stoller and producer Judd Apatow focused their attention upon their characters, their behavior and their consequences, all qualities that exponentially increased the comedy and ultimately makes the film memorable. Special honorable mention must go to Sean “Diddy” Combs for his blisteringly hysterical turn as the perpetually infuriated music mogul Sergio Roma. Practically everything out of this man’s mouth was comic gold.
Available on DVD
“GET LOW” Directed by Aaron Schneider
The national acting treasure that is Robert Duvall shines again in a completely naturalistic performance that feels as if every word uttered from his mouth were his very own and not existent within a beautifully written and observed screenplay. The tale of the cantankerous and widely feared Felix Bush and his desire to throw himself a funeral party before his inevitable demise is a graceful tribute to the stories we tell ourselves and others, the very stories that build and sustain our collective humanity. It is a gentle, dark comedy with strong, understated performances from the entire cast, including Bill Murray who again shows subtle depth underneath the effortless humor.
Soon to be released on DVD
“THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO” Directed by Niels Arden Opley
”THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE” & “THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST” Directed by Daniel Alfredson
-Stieg Larsson’s best-selling crime thriller trilogy received a handsome, reverential, brutal, vengeful and surprisingly touching adaptation with three Swedish films that made their welcome arrival in the United States in 2010. The saga of crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (the rock steady Michael Nyqvist) and moody, relentlessly pursued computer hacker Lisbeth Slander (the scorching Noomi Rapace) made for completely engrossing cinema that delved into extremely deep, dark thematic waters. The trilogy made for some sadistic (but conceptually necessary) moments while ultimately providing a powerful journey of one woman’s rise from abuse to emancipation in a harshly violent world. As brilliant as Director David Fincher is, I think he has his work more than cut out for him as he is already in the midst of remaking stories of which there already exist three excellent films featuring leading performances that feel nothing less than definitive.
All three films are now available on DVD
“GREEN ZONE” Directed by Paul Greengrass
While I have stated many times that I am not a fan of Greengrass’ hyperactive directing style in the Jason Bourne series, I have to say that for this political thriller, his overactive camera and editing works in its favor. Matt Damon gives a rock solid performance as a soldier in Iraq on the hunt for the elusive and ultimately non-existent WMDs who eventually goes rogue in his pursuit of the truth behind why the United States went to war in the first place. Greengrass made a clever gamble with this film by fashioning it as a Jason Bourne adventure but really delivering a powerfully condemning piece of political theater. While this gamble did not pay off at the box office, do not let that deter you from seeing this creatively risky film that easily sits comfortably in the same neighborhood as last year’s Oscar winning “The Hurt Locker.”
Available on DVD
“HEREAFTER” Directed by Clint Eastwood
An elegant spiritual drama that calmly explores mortality and the possibility of a world beyond the sky and consciousness itself. Matt Damon stars again in an ensemble piece set in San Francisco, France and London which explores three characters who have each caught a glimpse of the other side and are currently struggling with their places in the material world. Clint Eastwood again shows why he is one of our cinematic masters by allowing every moment to occur naturally and with the heft, skill and flowing grace of jazz music.
Soon to be released on DVD
“HOT TUB TIME MACHINE” Directed by Steve Pink
-The pleasures of a subversive John Cusack comedy knows no bounds with me and this raucous excursion also outdid the antics of 2009’s overrated “The Hangover” so brilliantly. The story of three friends (Cusack, Craig Robinson and Rob Cordrry) plus a nephew (Clark Duke) who are all catapulted back to 1986 and the ski lodge haven of their youth highly succeeded as a satire of the 1980s as well as the films in which Cusack appeared during the 1980s. Additionally, the film worked exceedingly well as a deeply perceptive film about how the cherished times of youth were nothing to really cherish in the first place, a fact leading to middle age misery. Supremely vulgar, and ingeniously clever in its open hearted stupidity, “Hot Tub Time Machine” more than lived up to the promise in its title.
Available on DVD
“IRON MAN 2” Directed by Jon Favreau
In a year painfully loaded with terrible, unimaginative sequels, Director Jon Favreau’s second installment in the saga of scientific genius and billionaire bad boy Tony Stark and his iron clad alter-ego (a wonderful Robert Downey Jr.) was even a tad more satisfying than the first terrific chapter. While some critics felt the film to be either bloated or even boring with its more dialogue heavy mid-section, I thoroughly enjoyed the witty screenplay that emphasized character over special effects and allowed the performances of Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell to shine.
Available on DVD
“THE RUNAWAYS” Written and Directed by Floria Sigismondi
This raw musical biopic of the trailblazing teenage female rock band The Runaways featuring Joan Jett served as a coming of age family drama, exploration of rock and roll excess and female exploitation, as well as a call to arms for female musicians everywhere. Kristin Stewart starred as guitar slinger Jett in a performance that wisely relegated her limited acting skills to the role of an observer, despite her striking resemblance and raging physicality to Jett’s. This film is actually an absolute showcase for Dakota Fanning as nubile lead singer Cherie Currie yet even her immense talents are nearly swiped out from under her by Michael Shannon’s blazing performance as impresario Kim Fowley. This film expertly captures the seedier side of the mid 1970s by evoking a strong sense of time, place, and atmosphere thus creating an experience that feels like the bratty, scuzzy cousin of my beloved “Almost Famous” (2000).
Available on DVD
“RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE” Directed by Scot McFayden & Sam Dunn
The antithesis of nearly every episode of “Behind The Music” you have ever seen. This documentary of Canada’s greatest rock music export is not only a celebration of their rich, vast 40-year legacy. What filmmakers McFayden and Dunn have accomplished in elevating this film from being just one more run of the mill musical documentary was to discover the moving human element that exists behind these three notoriously private men. It is the story of three friends, committed to and fiercely proud of their backgrounds, their families, and lives of relative normalcy as well as their deep musical discipline and devotion to their craft. It is a story of hard work and perseverance, something to truly be celebrated in our current, increasingly narcissistic era of instant gratification.
Available on DVD
“THE TOWN” Co-Written and Directed by Ben Affleck
The incredible career re-invention of Ben Affleck as filmmaker continued with an enormously provocative effort that extended far beyond the realms of a standard crime/heist picture. In addition to his first rate directorial skills, Affleck delivered one of his finest performances as a Boston neighborhood career criminal forced to confront the path his life when he falls in love with the woman he took as a hostage. It was a thriller that worked as a cultural commentary, investigative piece and philosophical inner journey exploring the lives of several characters who are either desperately aching to transcend their restrictive environment or fatefully resigned to it.
Available on DVD
“TOY STORY 3” Directed by Lee Unkrich
The year’s best sequel and definitely one of the most emotional films of the year happened to be the latest work of cinematic gold from the folks at Pixar. Despite that high praise, this film did not end up on my final Top Ten list as I felt “Ratatouille” (2007), “Wall-E” (2008) and “Up” (2009) were stronger, more compelling films. Additionally, I still feel that the film’s middle section, while brilliantly executed, was more than a little padded and finally, there was just one other animated film released in 2010 that I still feel is the better film (stay tuned for that one). But, all of that being said, I commend Unkrich and the wizards at Pixar for releasing a film that dealt honestly with the on-going themes of mortality (best depicted in the film’s stunning sequence at the landfill) and the evolution of the life cycles of all of the film’s principal characters. It was a film with a specific artistic vision aimed for the masses and it worked so seemingly effortlessly.
Available on DVD
“TRUE GRIT” Written and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
After three uncompromising, brutal and undeniably and unapologetic nihilistic films, the Coen brothers have returned with an enormously entertaining, and audience friendly Western that has become the highest grossing film of their career to date. And all of this was accomplished without watering down their unique artistic vision in any way. As always, “True Grit” contained wonderful performances from their cast most notably, young Hailee Steinfeld as the extremely determined Mattie Ross, out to avenge her Father’s murder. As with their entire oeuvre, “True Grit” is a film that celebrates the power of language and this visually stunning film is loaded with loquacious passages that propel the story and grace your eardrums.
Currently playing in your local movie theater
“YOU WILL MEET A TALK DARK STRANGER” Written and Directed by Woody Allen
The grass is not greener is Allen’s overlooked dark comedy which features a collective of characters sadly exploring the lies they tell themselves in order to alter the course of their destinies. As always, Allen’s film is literate, perceptive, grimly honest about our humane faults and he presents all of them humanely. Josh Brolin deserves much credit for carving out the film’s toughest, most unforgiving character, a struggling novelist unhappily married to Naomi Watts, who is obsessed with the woman behind the red curtain across the way from his bedroom window.
Soon to be released on DVD
And there you have it! Stay tuned for Part Two-"NUMBER 11" the films to which I awarded four stars but did not make the final TOP TEN list!