Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The 6th Annual Golden Gallo Awards

Holy crap, it's the 6th Annual Golden Gallo Awards! My how time flies around here. Congrats to the Razzie Nominees and The Oscar Nominees (The King's Speech Best Sound, really Academy?) and now the movie awards to end all movie awards the Golden Gallos. Piranaha 3D is the big winner this year with 3 awards total. Congratulations to all of the winners!

Best Revamping of a Dying Franchise: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

Worst Attempt to End a Franchise: SAW 3D

Best Performance by a Scientologist: Tom Cruise, KNIGHT & DAY

Most Realistic Domestic Quarrel: BLUE VALENTINE

The “What the Heck Were They Thinking” Award: MY SOUL TO TAKE

Best Opening Title Sequence: BURIED

Best Closing Credit Sequence: THE OTHER GUYS

Best Performance by a Wax Figure in a Fiction Film: Cher, BURLESQUE

Best Performance by a Wax Figure in a Non-Fiction Film: Joan Rivers, JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK

Film Least Deserving of an Award, Even a Golden Gallo: SKYLINE

Scene Stealer Award: Kieran Culkin, SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD

Movie Most Likely to Cause Nightmares (in a good way): PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2

Movie Most Likely to Cause Nightmares (in a bad way): MY SOUL TO TAKE

The Slumdog Millionaire Why-Don’t-I-Like-This-Movie? Award: KICK-ASS

The Trailer is Better than the Movie Award: YOU AGAIN

Least Obnoxious Child Performance: Chloe Moretz, KICK-ASS

Most Obnoxious Child Performance: Noah Ringer, THE LAST AIRBENDER

Most Gratuitous Use of Bathing Suits: PIRANHA 3D

Best Film Most Likely to be Forgotten by the Academy: CONVICTION

The “Or How I Learned to Love a Bomb” Guilty Pleasure Award: PIRANHA 3D

The Grease 2 Unnecessary Sequel Award: SAW 3D

The Music Score is Better Than the Movie: THE SOCIAL NETWORK

Best Performance By a Human Centipede: Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie and Akihiro Kitamura, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE

The Jaws 3D “I Only Wanted to See It Cause it Was in 3-D” Award: STEP UP 3D

The Come On People It’s Not That Bad Award: BURLESQUE

Best Use of a VCR as a Weapon: DOGTOOTH
The Don’t You Forget About Me “This Came Out This Year??” Award: SHUTTER ISLAND

The Ishtar Big-Budget Stinker Award: THE LAST AIRBENDER
Coolest Movie Poster Award: 127 HOURS

Best Film with a Cast Member of TV’s ‘Lost:’ THE TOWN

Worst Film with a Cast Member of TV’s ‘Lost:’ ROBIN HOOD

Best Prop: Cobb’s spinning totem in INCEPTION

Best Use of the McGuffin in an Action Comedy: the flashdrive in DATE NIGHT

Best Comeback from a Previously Horrid Attempt at Filmmaking: Tony Scott, UNSTOPPABLE

Best Self-Amputation in a Drama: 127 Hours

Worst Hairdo: Melissa Leo, THE FIGHTER

The “I Did Everything for this Movie” Award: Tom Six, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lost in Rotation: “Somewhere” Reflects the Dullness of the Celebrity Lifestyle

At the beginning of “Somewhere” actor Johnny Marco has no where to go. He lives his life: he gets visits from strippers, sometimes he hangs out with his buddy, he drives around in his Ferrari, and he takes part in publicity events for his film. To call his life mundane would be an insult to people who have mundane lives. Despite the fact that he’s a Hollywood actor, he seems to hangout mostly by himself. He does have a preteen daughter who comes to visit him and in a short time he begins to reexamine his life. Sofia Coppola who also directed the similarly themed “Lost in Translation” is pretty genius in the way she says so much by showing and saying so little. While I’m not the biggest fan of “Lost in Translation” I see its positives and with “Somewhere” she centers the similar story into the more interesting world of Hollywood rather than the foreign nature of the other film (which obviously was the point, but still I don’t really like that movie, sue me).

The beginning of “Somewhere” is almost boring. Nothing much happens at first, and that is exactly what Coppola is getting at. While in most films about Hollywood actors’ lifestyles are usually glamorized as these fascinating otherworldly people who don’t live ordinary lives, things are much different in “Somewhere.” Maybe it’s more true or maybe it’s not, but for the character of Johnny (Stephen Dorff) his life is almost tedious and doesn’t seem to have much meaning. Johnny falls down and break his arm. And then he hires two pole dancers who dance for him in which he promptly falls asleep. It seems like even though he’s an actor and he’s living in the famous Château Marmont hotel on Sunset Blvd., he almost painfully has no life (and obviously doesn’t know where to go since he literally drives around in circles in the opening scene). In fact much like his arm, he’s a broken man.

Of course that all changes when his daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) visits for an indeterminate amount of time. He brings her along to several publicity events including a trip to Italy where his film is premiering and he attends an awards show. Coppola certainly knows how to make Americans feel awkward amongst odd foreigners; she certainly portrays Italians no less weird than she did to the Japanese in “Lost in Translation.” The two of them hang out which seems like it would “disrupt” his Hollywood way of life, but in fact it only enhances it and he comes to realize just how dull his life has been.

As odd as it may sound Coppola’s realistic style reminds me of Woody Allen’s similar approach. Her scenes of a Hollywood party seem like doppelgangers of scenes set in LA in “Annie Hall.” Like Allen, Coppola enjoys giving outsiders a look at famous lives. The stagnant and hardly moving camera also reminds me of Allen’s view which is simply as an observer, quietly watching as the scene unfolds. There’s nothing to flashy in “Somewhere” and anyone expecting anything else will certainly feel disappointed. This is a character study more than a deconstruction of the Hollywood lifestyle (although it does have things to say about it) and it features some great performances. The script is fairly strong and in a weaker year would probably be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination.

The Hollywood life certainly isn’t as fabulous as its cracked up to be and “Somewhere” just shows one example of it. This isn’t a downward spiral story about a drug addict or anything; Johnny seems like a pretty nice, average guy - at least for a celebrity. This is a fine film and a touching story about a father and a daughter. It’s a small simple film, certainly one worth seeing and pondering. But you’ll have to see it if you want to know if Johnny ever actually ends up somewhere. GRADE: B+

2011 Oscar Nomination Predictions

UPDATED: So here we have it people, the moment everyone in the world has been eagerly waiting for: the Oscar nominations have been revealed! There were some surprises, but not too many outright shocks. In Best Picture, Winter's Bone edged out The Town (which only received one nomination for Jeremy Renner). Also John Hawkes, who had scored a surprise SAG nod, edged out Andrew Garfield of The Social Network, I thought that could happen to him or Mark Ruffalo, who got in. I think I'm mostly surprised by Christopher Nolan's Best Director snub (both the Coens and David O. Russell got in) which must certainly sting especially after haven been snubbed for The Dark Knight in 2008. but he is a best picture and best screenplay nominee. Inception didn't even get an editing nomination, which pretty much nulls its Best Picture chances, but let's be honest, did it even have a shot? Hailee is in Supporting, but so is Jacki Weaver, who booted out Mila Kunis. And good job for nominated Michelle Williams who is great in Blue Valentine. Javier Bardem knocked out Robert Duvall, which I thought could happen, thank god, because i have no desire to watch Get Low. I think I'm surprised Waiting for Superman didnt make it into the Documentary category since it was the perceived frontrunner. And only four song nominations and none for Burleseque! Cher is pissed that she won't be able to perform at the Oscars! I'm glad the Academy's music branch showed it could be hip and cool by actually nominating "The Social Network" for Best Score; could it actually win? Danny Elfman gets skunked again. I'm proud of my Unstoppable prediction in the Sound Editing field which no one seemed to predict except me. And I'm not quite sure why The King's Speech is nominated for Sound Mixing, but oh well. Overall there were enough surprises to keep things fun and not enough snubs to truly piss me off. I wish The Town was a best picture nominee, mostly because I just assumed it would make it months ago, oh well. See you on Feburary 27th!
I correctly predicted 83 of the 107 nominees.

Check out all the nominees here:

[from Saturday]: On January 25the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce the nominations for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. Who else is super excited? Trying to predict how the Academy will think it sometimes pretty tricky; and yet sometimes it’s painfully predictable. Most of the time most categories will have four sure things and one pesky open slot in which any movie could fit. This year for nearly every category there are six films vying for only five slots. And this is the second year the Academy will nominate ten films for Best Picture and there are eleven solid contenders. Which will they leave out? There are several things I’ll be keeping my eye out for this Tuesday. First being, how many nominations will “127 Hours” get? It seemed like a movie that would be Oscar gold, what with director Danny Boyle coming freshly off the Oscar-dominating “Slumdog Millionaire.” 127 Hour seems like a movie no one really wants to see because it features a scene of self-amputation. Hopefully it gets more nominations than “Into the Wild” received which was famously snubbed three years ago. I’m curious as to how many nominations the frontrunner “The Social Network” will get. I’m not completely sold that it will get a tremendous showing in the craft categories, but love for the film could find it a lot of love. I’m hoping they find plenty of love for “The Town” which I had been predicting would be invited to the big dance the second after I saw it. While I hope many of my predictions are correct, I really do hope there are plenty of suprises hidden up the Academy’s sleeve. Only time will tell, until then check out my predictions below:

Best Picture
“Black Swan”
“The Fighter”
“The Kids Are All Right”
“The King's Speech”
“127 Hours”
“The Social Network"
“The Town”
“Toy Story 3”
“True Grit”

There are 11 films vying for these ten slots. I believe the well-loved, but little seen indie “Winter’s Bone” is on the outs, but it could just as easily sneak in there and bump off “127 Hours” a wonderful film that many just don’t even want to see. The only other vulnerable films are “The Town or “The Kids Are All Right” but I can’t see anything else (like “Blue Valentine” for instance) besides “Bone” making the cut.

Best Director
Darren Aronofsky “Black Swan”
David O. Russell “The Fighter”
Christopher Nolan “Inception”
Tom Hooper “The King's Speech”
David Fincher “The Social Network”

I think there are four sure things here. I’m wishy washy with David O. Russell, but he did receive a Golden Globe and Director’s Guild nod, so I’m pretty confident. Although the well-liked Coens could edge him out here

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

I’m kind of confident these five actors are sure things. I’m not really sure that Ryan Gosling or Javier Bardem (a former Best Supporting Actor winner) could make it in there, but weirder things have happened (see 2007’s surprise nod for Tommy Lee Jones, a former Best Supporting Actor winner).

Best Actress
Annette Bening “The Kids Are All Right”
Nicole Kidman “Rabbit Hole”
Jennifer Lawrence “Winter's Bone"
Natalie Portman “Black Swan"
Hailee Steinfeld “True Grit”

Here is where things start to get interesting. I believe there are four sure things here. I’m going out on limb and predicting the Academy will show some common sense (as BAFTA did recently) and place Steinfeld in the Best Actress category even though the studio has been campaigning for her in Supporting. They did this with Keisha Castle-Hughes in 2003 and most recently with Kate Winslet in The Reader in 2008. If she doesn’t make it here, then I can see literally anyone replacing her such as Michelle Williams (certainly deserving), Julianne Moore (fingers crossed!) or even the always likable Hilary Swank, who got a surprise SAG nomination. I’d love it just to see Round 3 of Swank vs. Bening. Although at this point, it’s Portman’s to lose.

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale “The Fighter”
Andrew Garfield “The Social Network”
Jeremy Renner “The Town”
Mark Ruffalo “The Kids Are All Right”
Geoffrey Rush “The King's Speech”

An interesting race here, while not as dramatic as the Actress races. Garfield seems weak because he didn’t get a SAG nom, but he bounced back with a nod from BAFTA, a group who in general wasn’t as warm with The Social Network as much as other groups have been (although to be fair they weren’t that warm to The Fighter either). Mark Ruffalo is the only other potentionally weak one, with a possibility of either Sam Rockwell or the SAG-nominated John Hawkes from “Winter’s Bone.” SAG is notorious for rewarding smaller, more indie type roles, so I think that was really just a fluke.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams "The Fighter"
Helena Bonham Carter “The King's Speech”
Mila Kunis “Black Swan”
Melissa Leo “The Fighter”
Jacki Weaver “Animal Kingdom”

And here we are back to the madness of this extremely strong year for female actresses. If Steinfeld does get nominated here she will bump out Jacki Weaver for sure. This fifth slot is also a head scratcher this year because it’s possible for a number of different performers to get a surprise nod. Maybe Barbara Hershey from “Black Swan?” (She did get a BAFTA nod). Who knows, maybe Kunis gets bumped out too? Could critic darling Leslie Manville get placed here (she’s also a possibility in Lead although from what I hear she’s really part of an ensemble). I’m not confident that Weaver gets in and in fact this the category I’m probably the least confident in.

Best Adapted Screenplay
“127 Hours”
“The Social Network”
“Toy Story 3”
“True Grit”
“Winter's Bone”

I’m debating how much love the Academy will give “127 Hours” a film that has terrific direction, writing, acting, cinematography, editing, music, sound etc. and yet I can actually picture it getting the shaft just because it features a difficult-to-watch amputation scene (the Academy wasn’t very kind to the similar “Into the Wild” three years ago). So having said that, I’m not very sure whether “127 Hours” can make it here and if it doesn’t it’ll certainly make room for “The Town” the more likely of the weaker Best Picture possibilities.

Best Original Screenplay
“Black Swan”
“The Kids Are All Right”
“The King's Speech"
“The Fighter”

This is another category that will be tough to call. I want to say that Mike Leigh will get in for “Another Year” but with it’s awards chances waning over the past coupe months I’m not too sure about that which is why I think “Black Swam” and “The Fighter” are better possibilities, but not sure things.

Best Art Direction
“Alice in Wonderland”
“The King's Speech”
“Shutter Island”
“True Grit”

Best Cinematography
“Black Swan”
“Shutter Island”
“The Social Network”
“True Grit”

Best Costume Design
“Alice in Wonderland”
“Black Swan”
“The King's Speech”
“The Tempest”
“True Grit”

Best Editing
“127 Hours”
“Black Swan”
“The Social Network”
“The Fighter”

Best Makeup
“Alice in Wonderland”
“Barney’s Version”
“The Wolfman”

Best Original Score
“127 Hours”
“Alice in Wonderland”
“The King’s Speech”
“The Social Network”

Best Original Song
‘Haven’t Seen the Last of Me’ from “Burlesque”
‘If I Rise’ from “127 Hours”
‘I See the Light’ from “Tangled”
‘We Belong Together’ from “Toy Story 3”
‘Shine’ from “Waiting for Superman”

Sound Editing
“Iron Man 2”
“Toy Story 3”
“TRON Legacy”

Sound Mixing
“The Town”
“TRON Legacy”
“True Grit”

Visual Effects
“Alice in Wonderland”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I”
“Iron Man 2”
“TRON Legacy”

Animated Feature Film
“How to Train Your Dragon”
“The Illusionist”
“Toy Story 3”

Documentary Feature
“Exit Through the Gift Shop”
“Inside Job”
“The Tillman Story”
“Waiting for Superman”

Foreign Language Film
Algeria, “Hors la Loi” (“Outside the Law”)
Canada, “Incendies”
Denmark, “In a Better World”
Mexico, “Biutiful”
South Africa, “Life, above All”

A Walk to Remember: Colin Farrell & Co. Catch the Midnight Express in “The Way Back”

“The Way Back” is Australian director Peter Weir’s first film since “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” and like that film did, it should have Oscar written all over it. It’s epic and moving and almost grueling to watch, but for some reason, it’s not a movie that has clicked much with anyone. And that’s most likely because it’s essentially over two hours of people walking and walking. Think “Lord of the Rings” without the fantastical creatures. The film is based on the true story, set during World War II, of prisoners of a Siberian prison escaping and walking 4,000 miles to freedom over the Himalayas into the safety of India. And what a harrowing journey it was and this film is a fascinating account of that nearly impossible journey. Some survive and some don’t. Perhaps the film spoils something when it says at the beginning that three men made it, but that doesn’t matter because it’s hard to say exactly which of the three will make it.

Jim Sturgess, who you may remember from “Across the Universe,” is Janusz a Polish man who is arrested by the Soviets and accused to sabotage and sentenced to twenty years in the Gulag prison. In there he meets some inmates including an American named “Mr. Smith” (Ed Harris) and a Russian criminal named Valka (Colin Farrell, always great). They soon conspire, with a few others, to escape the prison, enter the woods and live off the land as they make their way to freedom. Seven of them escape into the freezing cold forest, during a blizzard no less. And soon one man, who has “night blindness” gets lost and freezes to death. But their journey doesn’t always consist of cold weather they must face the harshness of the Gobi desert. They had made it to Mongolia, but realize that it’s under Communist rule so they decide to press on even further to India. And meanwhile they find a young Polish girl (Saoirse Ronan), all alone, who had been following the group of men. They reluctantly take her in, much to Mr. Smith’s dissatisfaction.

Sure the film is really about a bunch of guys who slowly walk and walk to get to freedom, but its in the details that the film really soars. The hardships these men and girl must face are just incredible. The harshness of the cold and heat seem unbearable. They eat bugs, their feet swell up, they face near dehydration, and the realistic tone of the film really makes you feel a part of it. When they encounter villages of people, Valka even has to murder to steal food and supplies. And the performances are great. Farrell, like he always manages to do, just gets lost in his performance. You never see him as Colin, he’s always Valka. Saoirse Ronan is a fine young actress and I can’t image what it must have been like for her to shoot this film. All of the actors look completely weathered thanks to the wonderful make-up and costume design. You’d think Mr. Weir really made these guys walk thousands of miles.

“The Way Back” doesn’t quite hit the emotional chord of other similar movies, but it also is not emotionally manipulative at all. It sort of reminded me of “Alive” meets “Rescue Dawn” and for all of this stuff that you’ve probably seen before, it does truly feel original. The lush landscapes are equally beautiful and threatening and while there is little characterization that exists, this feels more about the experience than anything else. This is a distressing film indeed, but nothing seems more distressful than not giving it a chance at all. GRADE: B+

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Boxers, Piranha and Lesbians, Oh My! The Best Films of 2010

It took me until August to award a film with an “A” rating (that would be Piranha 3D and if you know me at all, you realize that makes perfect sense) so I worried slightly about whether 2010 was going to be a dud of a year. In fact the last couple months of 2010 gave us some great films. Plenty of great acting, writing and directing going on. Lots of truly rewarding and original stuff this year amongst all the remakes and reboots. Keep looking and you’ll find the good stuff. And here they are:

1) 127 Hours (dir. Danny Boyle)
Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” is basically an Oscar-worthy torture porn flick. It’s a highbrow “Saw” movie which finds an ordinary person, the real life adventurer Aron Ralston (an electric James Franco), in an extraordinary situation, where he faces a choice: die from starvation or cut off his own limb to stay alive. Sure Boyle fills his claustrophobic, yet tremendously entertaining film with beautiful and touching cutaways to better and brighter moments in Aron’s life, but he certainly spends the film’s finale right in there as Aron chops away at that arm. A sort of weird mix of “The Diving Bell & the Butterfly” and “Into the Wild,” this is audacious filmmaking and without question the most stunning and mesmerizing film of the year – assuming you have the stomach to take it. Highly recommended! Fun Fact: The camcorder used by James Franco in the film was the actual one Aron Ralston used when he was trapped in Blue John Canyon.

2) The Town (dir. Ben Affleck)
Ben Affleck is two for two with this tremendous follow up to “Gone Baby Gone.” This Boston-set (where else?) heist flick is more than just a cops and robbers movie. It carries emotional weight (the bank robber falls in love with the victim but she doesn’t know he’s the bank robber!) and plenty of cool gun and car chases. The chase with the gang dressed as nuns is one of the best action scenes of the year (see “Inception” for the other). For a fun time pair this awesome flick with “The Departed” for a Wicked Cool Bas-ton Movie Marathon. Fun Fact: The film's premiere was held at Fenway Park. The cast walked a red carpet along the first baseline.

3) Piranha 3D (dir. Alexandre Aja)
The best horror film of the year is also one of the year’s funniest. It was simply one of the most enjoyable times I had at the theater. The film from the guy who brought us High Tension and the The Hills Have Eyes remake throws everything at the viewer in glorious 3D which is not limited to Jerry O’Connell’s genitalia. The film features some of Hollywood’s greatest B-list actors including Elizabeth Shue, Richard Dreyfuss and Christopher Lloyd, not to mention some of the wildest and bloodiest gore scenes ever committed to celluloid. I’m pretty sure most of the film’s production budget was for the fake blood and gore. This is the type of movie 3D was made for. This film certainly doesn’t bite, assuming you’re in on the joke. Fun Fact: Alexandre Aja planned to have Joe Dante (director of the original Piranha) and James Cameron (director of Piranha Part Two: The Spawning) play boat captains who give safety lessons to the teens. Dante wanted to do it but Cameron was too busy.

4) The Fighter (dir. David O. Russell)
Marky Mark does it again. Except this time he’s surrounded by of the interesting characters. The true life tale of “Irish” Mickey Ward famed shot at the welterweight championship is a boxing movie for people who don’t like boxing movies. The film thankfully follows around Mickey’s crazy family including his brother Dickie (a terrific Christian Bale) his mother (a wonderful Melissa Leo), his seven badly-coifed sisters, and his girlfriend (a superb Amy Adams). It’s rare for a “sports movie” to make you care about the characters this much and it has the balls to spend plenty of the film’s runtime without actually showing a boxing match. Fun Fact: In the film, Christian Bale plays Dickie Eklund, who is 7 years older than his half-brother Mickey Ward, played by Mark Wahlberg. In reality, Wahlberg is 3 years Bale's senior.

5) Black Swan (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
The year’s second best horror film has nothing to due with killer fish, but rather a ballerina’s tormented psyche as she turns into an evil black swan. Leave it to Darren Aronofksy to make a horror movie set in the world of New York ballet. He turned the story of addiction into a horror flick with “Requiem for a Dream” and here he also gives us chilling and disturbing images that will most likely stick with you for days. The film’s gritty style fits the tone. One would think a film about dancers would have a pretty and polished look, but Aronofksy forgoes that to show us the seedy underbelly of this world. He gets into our heroine’s head (and under her skin sometimes) so flawlessly we’re not sure if we’ll be the same after the film ends. Sort of an Oscar-worthy “David Cronenberg does Showgirls” riff, this is a thrilling movie that will certainly stay with you. Fun Fact: The film began as a screenplay called "The Understudy" and took place in the world of New York theater. Darren Aronofsky liked the script, but suggested it be changed to ballet.

6) The Kids Are All Right (dir. Lisa Cholodenko)
The hit dramedy from Sundance about a lesbian couple (played wonderfully by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) and their two teenage kids who decide to seek out their natural father unbeknownst to mom and mom. A fine ensemble cast all around with a great script with plenty of twists and turns. This film, like Up in the Air last year just sort of feels like the movie of the moment. It so represents life “now.” I think this should have been this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine” but alas there are some people who don’t want to watch a movie about lesbians that doesn’t involve the words “late night” or “Cinemax.” A real charmer and winner. Fun Fact: The film's title is based on the title of the song "The Kids Are Alright" by The Who.

7) Rabbit Hole (dir. John Cameron Mitchell)
No one wants to watch a movie about a couple grieving over the lost of their young son. Except for “Rabbit Hole” which is instantly watchable and instantly unforgettable. It features some standout performances especially sure-to-be-nominated Nicole Kidman and sure-to-be-left-out Aaron Eckhart as the couple who can’t seem to move on. Their young son was struck and killed by a teenage driver and each of them find comfort in different places: she by meeting with the boy who killed her son and he with a support group. This is an honest, unflinching portrait of a pretty traumatic subject matter and yet you can’t take your eyes off the screen. It offers humor and a pretty humanistic story of loss that is simply one of the year’s best. Fun Fact: Aaron Eckhart was personally hand-picked by Nicole Kidman to play her husband.

8) Inception (dir. Christopher Nolan)
The movie that not only captivated a summer audience but confused the hell out of it as well. This mind-bending sci-fi action thriller involves people entering other’s subconscious dreams in order to extract or - in the film’s major storyline - “plant” an idea in someone’s mind. A top-notch cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cottilard and plenty more where that came are perfect in a film from the wondrous mind of Christopher Nolan who gave us “The Dark Knight.” There are simply too many dazzling visuals in this movie to even describe, but the standout being the zero gravity fight sequence which had everyone’s jaws glued to the floor in theaters across the country. Truly original. Fun Fact: The use of the Édith Piaf song "Non, je ne regrette rien" is used as a plot device. Marion Cotillard played Piaf in La Vie en Rose. Christopher Nolan has stated that this is "pure coincidence". After Cotillard was cast Nolan intended to change the song to eliminate speculation on the subject, but composer Hans Zimmer persuaded him to keep it.

9) Easy A (dir. Will Gluck)
The year’s most lauded teen comedy is a well-written fable about a teenage girl who spreads a rumor about herself which gets wildly out of control. Critics understandably ate this movie up because movies about high school aren’t usually this smart or well-done. It sort of feels like a distant cousin of “Juno” or “Mean Girls.” And not only that, but it’s a sweet tribute to the John Hughes high school films of the 80s. Emma Stone is great in her charismatic Golden Globe-nominated role of Olive Prendergast (and Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are great as her hip parents) who sees parallels between her situation and the classic novel “The Scarlet Letter.” A funny flick with great performances and a witty script elevate this above the usual teen garbage. This one gets straight As indeed. Fun Fact: Olive's family members are all named after foods: her parents' names are Dill and Rosemary, both herbs; her younger brother's name is Chip, and the one at college is named Kale.

10) Conviction (dir. Tony Goldwyn)
A wonderful true life tale of Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) who spend countless years pursuing a law degree so that she could represent her incriminated brother Kenny who was falsely accused of murder. The problem is Kenny, as played wonderfully by Sam Rockwell, isn’t the most likable guy. But Betty and Kenny are brother and sister and this is a story about sibling love that truly touches your heart. The film could easily been schmaltzy Lifetime movie corniness – and maybe some of it is to a point – but there is no denying the powerful story we’re given to witness and the emotionally charged performances from a great cast–including a scene stealing Juliet Lewis–as well. Fun Fact: The movie does not reveal, even in the closing captions, that six months after being released from prison, Kenny tragically fell from a wall while taking a shortcut, suffered a brain injury and died.

Honorable Mentions:
Blue Valentine
Let Me In
Shutter Island
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Toy Story 3
Best Worst Movie
How to Train Your Dragon
Winter's Bone

Worst Films of the Year:
The Expendables
The Last Airbender
My Soul to Take
Robin Hood

Here's a fun tribute to 2010:

2010 Salute to Cinema from Ben Zuk on Vimeo.

Scenes from a Marriage: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are in Top Form in “Blue Valentine”

If the recent movie “Rabbit Hole” taught us anything it’s that it’s not impossible to fine a film about grieving parents entertaining. The same goes for “Blue Valentine” which traces the development and dissolution of a marriage. These are two films with tough subject matter and traditionally difficult to watch material, but they are worth seeing first and foremost for their powerful performances. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams prove they are two of this country’s most talented young stars and have tremendously successful careers ahead of them. If “500 Days of Summer” was fun, quirky indie comedy of last year, then “Blue Valentine” is the depressing, gritty indie drama of this year. Both films trace a romantic relationship in completely different ways. They both have similar plot structures: crosscutting in time with the beginning and end of their respective relationships. While “Summer” was amusing and funny, “Valentine” is sad and harrowing. And it’s made even more difficult to watch because in the early stages of this couple’s relationship, they are so likable and in love it’s tragic to see how they end up.

I’m not sure that you really feel much hope at the end of “Blue Valentine” but there is one thing that is certain when the film ends: you’ve witnesses some of the year’s finest acting. It’s a rare film that can follow just two actors around for nearly the entire runtime and be completely captivated the whole time. Gosling is Dean, a high school dropout who works for a moving company. Williams is Cindy, who is preparing for med school and takes care of her elderly grandmother. By happenstance Dean and Cindy meet and soon begin a romantic relationship. These scenes of their relationship are actually flashbacks; maybe 6 or 7 years in the past, although we never truly know. Their present status of their relationship is practically nonexistent. They bicker and fight; they get on each other’s nerves. They have a young daughter. They think a weekend at a cheap hotel might bring that spark back, but it seems like the spark has been gone and lost forever. The film opens with the family dog having run off, and Cindy finds it dead on the side of the road. This can’t be a good sign.

What’s so fascinating about “Blue Valentine” is the structure that the film takes. By going back in forth in time you begin to really care about this couple, which makes the scenes set in the present all the more difficult to watch. As they begin to fall in love, in the past scenes (which appear to be shot in shaky 16mm) you begin to fall for them too. That’s because Gosling and Williams seem like such likable people. They feel so normal and natural, almost seemingly plucked off the street. And you really feel as if these two people have a long history together in the scenes set in the present. And that’s due to director Derek Cianfrance’s ingenious decision to have his two actors live together for months before shooting those scenes. They built an off camera history which really translates on screen. And they certainly looked weathered, what with Goslings receding hairline and Williams worn in eyes. And besides, look at how difficult a job these two actors have. They have to be lovable and irritating all at the same time.

This is a small indie film that feels born of another time. As a film of the gritty intimate films of the early 1970s, it sort of has a New Wave vibe. It’s uncompromising in its depictions and it refuses to take the easy way out. It, now famously, features some intense sexual scenes which shocked the MPAA, but doesn’t quit feel all that shocking as you’re watching the film. The only thing truly shocking about the film is how real it feels. This is certainly a great combination of wonderful filmmaking and great acting which equally a compulsively watchable and distressing story about falling in and out of love. GRADE: A-

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Where’s the Grief? Nicole Kidman Takes Us on an Emotional Journey Down the “Rabbit Hole”

“Rabbit Hole” can be a tough film to watch, but it’s worth every minute. It’s not exactly the depressingly emotional feel-bad drama that it could have ended up being and it’s certainly not a clichéd overly-sentimental melodrama. This is a powerful flick with great acting and a subtly interesting plot you quickly forget just how quickly you become emotionally invested in what’s going on. It’s a story about loss and grief yes, but it’s also about moving on after having faced a terrible tragedy and finding comfort in the unlikeliest of places. And the two main characters of “Rabbit Hole” face the worst tragedy of them all: the death of their young child.

“Rabbit Hole” begins eight months after an “incident” of which we know nothing about. We’re introduced to Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart). They’re a married couple. They look pretty normal. But something is bothering theme. We learn through the film’s sharp dialogue that a tragedy has befallen them: they four year old son was accidently killed. He was hit by a car, driven by a young teenage boy. They’re not quite sure how to deal with their grief. After all, everything in their house reminds them of little Danny. His room was kept the same and he has paintings up on the fridge. Going to a support group for parents who have lost a child. It seems to help Howie, but not Becca. In fact, she hates it when the other parents justify their children’s deaths by saying “God needed an angel.” She isn’t buying it.

This leads Becca to find solace, not an extramarital affair, which usually happens in stories like this, but rather in the forming of a friendship, if you wanna call it that, with the young man who killed her son. They meet in the park and talk. Just talk, and he shares his comic book that he’s writing about parallel universes called “Rabbit Hole.” I think what we’re supposed to get from this is how Becca feels as if she’s living on another level since the death of her son. Nothing is normal anymore. It’s about what the grief process will do to a person.

Of course the movie as a whole isn’t a complete downer. Director John Cameron Mitchell, known for more eccentric filmmaking, (he directed “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Shortbus”) injects some much needed humor into his film. A scene that find Howie and a fellow support group member (Sandra Oh) getting high right before a meeting is simply inspired. The film is written by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire who adapted the script from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play. His writing is beautiful and poignant and never heavy-handed. Both the writing and directing feel natural and nothing is ever forced down the viewers throats. When we cry or laugh at something emotional on screen it feels genuine.

The aces here are obviously the standout performances. Kidman is great as is Eckhart. They have good chemistry; you really get the sense that this is a real married couple going through a painful situation. Dianne Wiest is also great as Kidman’s mother who also knows the pains of losing a child. A scene between Wiest and Kidman that takes place in a basement is pretty touching and powerful. Wiest in another year would most likely be an Oscar contender, but I fear the film’s lack of strong commercial appeal has likely done her in.

“Rabbit Hole” is a wonderful film from beginning to end. It is moving and unexpectedly humorous. It features great performances, a strong screenplay and perfectly subtle direction. It feels something along the lines of “In the Bedroom” or “Rachel Getting Married” or “Ordinary People” and is certainly worthy of being named alongside those other equally as powerful films. GRADE: A