Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Ten Most Disappointing Movies of 2010

From a very young age I was taught a valuable lifelong lesson, "You take the good with the bad". This timeless adage applies to all facets of life. And although we typically enjoy acknowledging the greats, it's also imperative that we take a step back to address the not-so-great. 2010 had more than its fair share of cinematic duds, and I decided to sort through my list finding the ten most disappointing movies of the year.

Before reading on, it's important to understand my criteria. I'm not finding the ten WORST films of the year, I'm identifying the films that you and I wanted to see, and when we did, they left us perplexed. Whether it's an awesome trailer, an A-List cast, or a great premise, there's always a catch to a hyped film. However, more times than not, we end up being letdown by the final product. In 2010, the following films were no exception:

#10) Alice in Wonderland

Having grossed over $300 million domestically, I may not have much of an argument here. However, I went into the film completely objective. I had very little knowledge of the back story, and I had no recollection of any of the old movies. That being said, the film was strange, creepy, and borderline intolerable. Outside of the vivid visual effects, Alice in Wonderland had very little to offer. I see it as another dull remake added to Tim Burton's resume.

#9) Get Him to the Greek

Let's face it, Forgetting Sarah Marshall was a hit. Not only was it a hit, the out-of-nowhere comedy was an instant classic. Therefore when I heard about the spin-off being made, I was as eager to see it as anyone else. Overly raunchy and vulgar, there were definitely some laugh out loud parts in Get Him to the Greek. But with nowhere near as much charm as its predecessor, this second installment of rocker Aldous Snow was too over the top for its own good.

#8) A Nightmare on Elm Street

Freddy Krueger is one of the scariest villains ever created. In 1984, Wes Craven crafted a horror masterpiece. And when I heard they were releasing a re-imagining of the classic film, I was skeptical, yet eager. 2010's A Nightmare on Elm Street focuses intensely on the brutal back story of the child murderer Freddy Krueger. Far too disturbing and graphic, the film falls way short of the spine-chilling fear generated by the original. Unfortunately, the terrible trend of remaking 80s hits continues.

#7) The American

Somewhat quiet in its release, The American stars George Clooney, and it pairs him with up-and-coming director Anton Corbijn. In 2009 Clooney reached all new heights with his brilliant work in Jason Reitman's award winning film Up in the Air. How quickly they fall. The American is beautifully shot and the cinematography is excellent. However, the deep character study is far too slow and non-climactic to experience any sort of enjoyment. The characters are lifeless, and it inevitably makes The American a difficult watch.

#6) Date Night

Two of the most talked about sitcoms on television are The Office and 30 Rock. When the leads from both shows announced they were making a comedy together, all ears perked up. Steve Carell and Tina Fey are two of the hottest names in Hollywood. Yet their stardom alone couldn't keep the laughs coming. Poor dialogue and plot ultimately made Date Night a disaster. Take away a few random laughs, this hyped comedy was easily one of 2010's biggest disappointments.

#5) Robin Hood

I'm still yet to find anyone who truly loved Ridley Scott's take on the classic tale Robin Hood. I know I'm a minority when I say that I wasn't particularly a big fan of Scott and Russell Crowe's big hit, Gladiator. But when word came out that the two would join forces once again, many people anxiously awaited Robin Hood's release. Much to our surprise, we were left baffled by its unoriginality and diluted story. I doubt it will be the last time we see the director and actor paired up again, but perhaps it should be.

#4) Dinner For Schmucks

Once again, Steve Carell happened to let us down in 2010. Dinner For Schmucks offered a hilarious trailer and an all-star cast including Carell, Paul Rudd, and Zach Galifianakis. Unfortunately, it didn't offer much more. Schmucks was incredibly over the top and the humor was all too forced. A jumbling of uncomfortable jokes and erratic plot, the film was certainly a letdown.

#3) Shutter Island

Hopefully by now everyone has seen legendary director Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. If not, spoiler alert, so stop reading. Teaming up Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio for the first time since The Departed, there wasn't anyone on the planet more excited for this film than me. Since this top ten list centers on flops, obviously you can tell I was extremely disappointed in the movie. Shutter Island offers no more than the marginal thrillers we've been exposed to over the past decade. Following almost the exact same formula as The Number 23, the film drags and the twist is overdone (he was crazy all along, how clever). I was immensely displeased with Scorsese's lack of originality. I've come to expect more from a director of his stature. Also, DiCaprio was far from excellent in the movie. Almost impossible to differentiate from his William Costigan role in The Departed, Shutter Island is living proof that even Leo isn't perfect.

#2) Grown Ups

Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, Kevin James, and David Spade, need I say more? Probably the most gifted comedic cast of the year, Grown Ups had everyone excited. Having reeled in over $160 million in the box office, people lined up to see this over-hyped comedy. Unfortunately for big time Sandler fans like myself, Grown Ups was a far too "family oriented" film. With recycled jokes and childish potty humor, this comedy fell extremely short of its expectations. If you haven't seen it, believe me, you aren't missing much.

#1) Hereafter

Acclaimed director Clint Eastwood proved to be out of his element when he decided to tackle the posthumous tale Hereafter. With recent hits like Gran Torino, Invictus, Million Dollar Baby, and Changeling, Eastwood's reputation helped build anticipation for the film. Couple that with one of Hollywood's finest, Matt Damon, as the lead, Hereafter was sure to be a hit. However, from beginning to end, the movie felt like a rainy day. It seemed as though it would never end. The 3 separate stories come together in an unsatisfying resolve that ultimately feels unsettling. Rumors circulating the film are that is was rushed. The script was unfinished and thrown together hastily by the director. Eastwood's rare flop has been ignored by everything this awards season, and it's not a surprise. Hereafter is definitely a thought provoking movie, but it's message isn't worth the drub you're required to sit through. And there you have it, 2010's biggest disappointment.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Top Ten Films of 2010

Now that Christmas has come and gone, it's only fitting to get nostalgic and discuss the top movies that 2010 had to offer. As the season's first snow storm pummels the east coast, what better time than now to start the debate?

2010 has been a strange year for cinema. The early months started out slow and left us all crossing our fingers for a redeeming Summer. However, Summer came and passed with plenty to be desired. We sat around wondering if there was any light at the end of the tunnel. And then all of a sudden Christopher Nolan's much-hyped, psychological tale Inception kicked off a relieving stretch run. It turned out to be a fantastic Fall, and ultimately, 2010 was a really good year for cinema. Unfortunately though, it's beginning to appear as though this will be a template for the major studios to follow in the upcoming years. If so, it could be a while until we have a smorgasbord of fantastic features again.

When thinking back to this year's releases, the phrase "very satisfying" comes to mind. There weren't any unbelievable films, however there's at least a baker's dozen worthy of top ten status. Not only were there plenty of solid movies this year, there were a plethora of top-notch performances. Everything from newcomer Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, to Colin Firth's depiction of King Henry VI during World War II. When all is said and done, the following ten films were this year's best:

#10) Toy Story 3

Very iconic of my childhood, Toy Story 3 was a film I was very excited to see this year. And when it finally came out, I was thrilled to watch it restore the franchise to it's original heights. Another adventure following Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the crew, Toy Story 3 addresses sincere topics like adulthood, friendship, and the passing of the torch. It's truly a pleasure for any audience.

#9) Black Swan

If you were to tell me in January that one of 2010's top films would center around a ballerina in New York City, I would've called you crazy. However, Darren Aronofsky's intense thriller Black Swan was one of this year's most beautifully crafted pictures. Natalie Portman gives a glaring performance as Nina Sayers, a young ballerina consumed by the pressure to be the best dancer in her company. The ending will stick with you for a while.

#8) True Grit

Jeff Bridges, fresh off an Oscar gold for his role in Crazy Heart last year, heads a wonderful cast in this Coen Brothers' remake. True Grit couples clever dialogue with pristine imagery to deliver one of the best Westerns in years. A murdered man's daughter seeks vengeance on the killer, and she hires a U.S. Marshall to help bring the man to justice. True Grit is a must see.

#7) The Town

As director Ben Affleck's successful follow up to Gone Baby Gone, The Town is highly entertaining. The film takes place in present day Boston, as a small community of crooks and thieves attempt a risky bank heist. Afterward, one of the robbers (Affleck) falls for the bank manager (Rebecca Hall) and it creates quite the controversy. The Town is more than just a typical cops and robbers movie, it offers a satisfying and deep look into redemption and change.

#6) Nowhere Boy

Despite the film's 2009 release in the United Kingdom, Nowhere Boy didn't reach the United States until this year. Starring Aaron Johnson (Kick Ass) as a teenage John Lennon in 1950s England, the movie explains the internal and external factors that helped breed a musical genius. Nowhere Boy teaches us a truth that Lennon so perfectly turned into a popular song. Sometimes ... all you need is love.

#5) The King's Speech

This year's festival darling, The King's Speech is perhaps 2010's most well-acted film. With an all-star cast containing Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech is an epic tale of overcoming great odds. Firth plays King George VI as he attempts to conquer his speech impediment. Bonham Carter as his wife, Queen Elizabeth, and Rush as his vocal coach, the film creatively ties together an unconventional story during a trying time.

#4) 127 Hours

Danny Boyle is one of the most gifted directors in Hollywood. As versatile as anyone else, Boyle used his rare gift in 2010 to give us one of the greatest survival pictures of all time. 127 Hours is based on the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston (played by James Franco) and the adversity he faces while being trapped in a canyon in Utah. Franco gives one of the year's top performances and helps Boyle create an intense, epic journey in the mind of a man desperate to survive. Quite graphic during its resolution, 127 Hours is worth seeing if you can stomach it.

#3) The Social Network

Clever and fast-paced, The Social Network examines the real life story of Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg). Zuckerberg, a Harvard undergrad, creates the world's greatest social website on a college campus with the financial aid of his best friend Eduardo Saverin (played by Andrew Garfield). However, when a billion dollar idea is at stake, anyone and everyone will do their best to get their hands on the prize. A story about friendship and betrayal, The Social Network is a brilliant portrayal of intellectual conquest and the American dream.

#2) Inception

Inception was 2010's first big name release. It was released in July and afterward, moviegoers worldwide never looked back. Director Christopher Nolan's thriller centers around a futuristic world where shared dreaming is possible. When a group of thieves are hired to implant an idea into an heir's mind, keeping track of reality becomes a difficult task. An ending that had everyone talking for months, Inception is yet another great film by one of Hollywood's best living directors, Christopher Nolan.

#1) Get Low

2010's list of great films is headed by an unknown, Get Low. The story follows a local hermit in 1930s Tennessee named Felix Bush (played by Robert Duvall). When Mr. Bush has a strange idea to have a funeral for himself while he's still living, a struggling funeral director (played by Bill Murray) is happy to take on the task. Filled with fabulous acting and a perfectly constructed story, Get Low is absolutely charming. Duvall delivers a performance for the ages, and it's wonderful watching the sly old man's interior motive come to life. Get Low is a great film and one suitable for any audience. Be sure to check out the best film 2010 had to offer.

Have you seen most of these movies? Are there ones you think I've missed? Feel free to leave a response and let me know what you think. Have a great new year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Kings Speech - Official Trailer

The King's Speech: A Worthy Oscar Darling?

Film: The King's Speech

Starring: Colin Firth (A Single Man and Love Actually), Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean and Munich), and Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club and Sweeney Todd)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Tom Hooper (The Damn United)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 118 minutes

Every year there's a movie that critics alike deem the awards season frontrunner. This year, it's The King's Speech. Director Tom Hooper's incredible depiction of the events leading up to the reign of King George VI garnered the most Golden Globe nominations, and many speculate it will head the Oscar nominations as well. The King's Speech was out in limited release as early as November 26th. In its first weekend, having only been released at 4 theatres nationwide, the film grossed about $350,000 (an astounding $88,000 per theatre). In addition to its financial recognition, The King's Speech was also an early festival favorite throughout the world. After winning numerous awards, it was clear that this film would be difficult to dethrone.

Prior to becoming King George VI (played by Colin Firth), he was known as the Duke of York. Being the second eldest son of King George V, the Duke was sure to never see the throne. His eldest brother David (played by Guy Pearce), was the next in line. Deep down, the Duke, also known as Bertie to his close friends and family, was quite conflicted. After the passing of his sick father, Bertie believed himself to be the most qualified to hold the throne. However, with the invention of wireless broadcasting, Bertie's speech impediment (he stammers) inhibited him from being a strong public speaker. Through a sequence of uncontrollable events, Bertie's wife Elizabeth (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and a local Speech expert, Lionel (played by Geoffrey Rush), helped him overcome incredible odds on his way to becoming King George VI during World War II.

The King's Speech is a well crafted, beautifully acted film. Tom Hooper constructs a witty masterpiece that's extremely easy to watch. Fresh off a difficult Oscars loss, it will be interesting to see if the hangover sways voters to cast their ballots for Colin Firth. His performance was brilliant, but he's up against some stiff competition this year. It's a similar story for supporting actor Geoffrey Rush. He's absolutely charming as the profound Speech coach, Lionel Logue. Yet, Rush finds himself as a suitable number two behind Christian Bale (The Fighter). Despite the fantastic performances by Firth and Rush, perhaps it's Helena Bonham Carter who delivers best. Queen Elizabeth is such a wonderful character, and Bonham Carter brings her to life. She's so convincing as the rock and backbone of the King during his ascension to the throne. Also filled with excellent, laugh out loud dialogue, The King's Speech is surely one of this year's finest films.

As it turns out, The King's Speech is a difficult movie to locate. Therefore, in order to see it, I expect many people will have to wait for DVD. But if you're really in touch with this year's awards season, then it's clearly a must see film.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Thursday, December 16, 2010

True Grit: Snub-worthy?

Film: True Grit

Starring: Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski and Crazyheart), Matt Damon (The Departed and Invictus), and Hailee Steinfeld

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG-13)

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo, No Country For Old Men, and The Big Lebowski)

Genre: Western

Runtime: 110 minutes

I have always enjoyed Westerns, but unfortunately I have never seen the original True Grit, starring the Hollywood legend, John Wayne. After seeing the latest Coen Brothers hit, I was told that this, however, is far from a remake. With its own imagining of a similar story, 2010's True Grit proves that the Western genre is far from dead.

Set in Arkansas some time ago, True Grit follows Mattie Ross (played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld). The young, 14 year old miss Ross is set in her ways. She plans on finding a bounty hunter to aid her in avenging her father's murder. After demonstrating her successful bargaining skills, Mattie lands enough money to swindle a rugged and crude U.S. Marshall named Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) into taking the job. There's a catch though. The wanted murderer, Tom Chaney (played by Josh Brolin), is quite the criminal, and a young Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Damon) is already tracking him. Somewhat pitted against one another, miss Ross and Cogburn hope to catch Chaney before LaBoeuf, and give the outlaw the hanging he deserves.

Tuesday marked the much anticipated release of this years Golden Globe nominations. However, it turned out to be far from a joyous day for the Coen Brothers and their all star cast. True Grit, surprisingly, received an unimaginable zero nominations. Sure to hurt its buzz, the directors still expect the Oscars to properly reward them for their final product. With clever dialogue and beautiful cinematography, True Grit, is far from the snub-worthy film the Golden Globes indirectly labeled it to be. Jeff Bridges delivers a memorable performance as the despicably charming Rooster Cogburn. Very selfish and independent (just listen to his recollections of his ex wives), it's remarkable seeing Cogburn's opinion of the job mold into a life-defining mission. In her first big role, Hailee Steinfeld's Golden Globe snub is far from warranted. She was magnificent and dazzling as the mature, vengeful daughter of the slain Frank Ross.

I have awaited the release of True Grit for months. I had the highest expectations imaginable for this film, and although it didn't reach them, it was still a very good movie. It's a nice, easy watch, but it lacks typical Coen Brothers flare. However, any fan of Westerns must see this film. Bridges will be remembered for his role for years to come. It's a great take on an underrepresented genre. I definitely recommend spending your Christmas holiday enjoying one of 2010's finest films, True Grit.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4.

Rabbit Hole

Film: Rabbit Hole

Starring: Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge and Australia), Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight and Love Happens), and Dianne Wiest (Edward Scissorhands and I Am Sam)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG 13)

Director: John Cameron Mitchell

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 91 minutes

My main motivation for trekking into the brisk, cold December air was to see Nicole Kidman's performance first hand. However, the dramatic Oscar hopeful, Rabbit Hole, offers far more than a one-trick pony.

Set in a present day suburb of New York, Rabbit Hole centers around a young, married couple with a rocky relationship. Nearly eight months have passed, but Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are still trying to cope with the loss of their only son. After unsuccessful attempts at group meetings and talking with close relatives, the couple acknowledges that something has to change or else it may mean the demise of their marriage. Seeking any sort of comfort and resolution, Becca and Howie go to very different extremes to feel at peace with their son's accidental death.

Nicole Kidman, fresh of a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in the film, perfectly depicts a struggling mother. Both her and Eckhart feel responsible for their son's death, but playing the blame game gets them nowhere. Filled with numerous intense, dramatic scenes, Rabbit Hole provides the audience with an inspiring story and unquestionable raw, emotional acting. Dianne Wiest also gives a wonderful performance as Becca's mother. She too has lost a child, but almost desperate to differentiate herself from her mother, Kidman brilliantly demonstrates Becca's resentment towards any comparison.

I was aware of the premise prior to viewing the film, and my initial thought was "here comes another slow-paced, depressing drama". However, the young director, John Cameron Mitchell, graces us with a short, but sweet, outlook on the power of forgiveness. Rabbit Hole teaches us that every person grieves differently, but in that grievance, we must learn to accept life for what it is. Nothing is perfect, and nor should we expect it to be. Sometimes we experience trials and tribulations, but how we overcome these difficulties defines who we are. Based on a very popular play, Rabbit Hole also shows us to always look to the future and take initiative. When you're consumed in the past, you're no longer living. The characters Becca and Howie realize this, and they work together beautifully to get back some sort of semblance of a life.

Despite its depressing story, Rabbit Hole actually is an uplifting film. The audience finds itself emotionally invested in the main characters, and at the film's conclusion, you are content with the progress they make. If you are interested in an excellent character piece that flows well, I definitely recommend Rabbit Hole.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

2011 Golden Globe Nominations: Good Calls and Snubs

I live in a suburb of Philadelphia, and today's (Tuesday Dec 14th) Golden Globe Nominations were inevitably overshadowed by the Philadelphia Phillies signing of Cliff Lee, and rightfully so. Once the excitement subsides, avid moviegoers will be dying to get the latest scoop on what films will be headlining this year's award season.

I finally had a chance to carefully sort through the 2011 nominees for each of the major motion picture categories, and the Golden Globes seem to have done an above average job with this year's nominations. But as we all know, nothing's perfect. So allow me to fill you in on the deserved nominees and the overlooked snubs at the year's inaugural ceremony.

For starters, let me point out that I haven't seen a few of this year's recognized films. Notably: The King's Speech, Blue Valentine, The Tourist, Frankie and Alice, and a few others. That being said, I still had the chance to view over 85 movies released this year and have plenty of insight to offer.

*** Best Picture (Drama)

The nominees are The King's Speech, Black Swan, The Fighter, The Social Network, and Inception.

Analysis: With all the buzz surrounding The King's Speech, I have to accept its place on this short list. Black Swan, The Social Network, and Inception all landed in my Top Ten films of the year, therefore, I can't question those choices. However, The Fighter was simply mediocre and I have to seriously question its place amongst these elite nominees. The film is rather non-climactic and too slow paced to garner such recognition. The Golden Globes simply have this one wrong.

Snubs: The Fighter should easily be replaced by another film that deserves serious consideration, such as Nowhere Boy, The Town, True Grit, or 127 Hours. All of which currently reside on my Top Ten list for 2010.

*** Best Picture (Comedy or Musical)

The nominees are Alice in Wonderland, The Tourist, Burlesque, Red, and The Kids Are All Right.

Analysis: I don't know what the committee was thinking, but they got these nominations ALL WRONG. Alice in Wonderland isn't very good at all and Red consists of more "been there, done that" action sequences than it does laughs. The Kids Are All Right was an acceptable nominee although it is still slightly over-hyped.

Snubs: Get Low has remained my number one film of the year for a long time now, and I am baffled by its lack of recognition. It's a great story that's delivered to perfection. Also, Easy A, Kick Ass, and Due Date are three other top-notch comedies (all much better than the nominated list above) that were completely overlooked by the Golden Globes.

*** Best Actor (Drama)

The nominees are Colin Firth (The King's Speech), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), James Franco (127 Hours), Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter), and Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine)

Analysis: Colin Firth seems to be the frontrunner as we approach the ceremony and no one can dispute James Franco's unbelievable real life portrayal of outdoor enthusiast Aron Ralston. Jesse Eisenberg was very good and deserving of a nomination, but Mark Wahlberg is puzzling. Marky Mark (he'll never lose that title in my eyes) gives the fourth best performance in The Fighter, and I don't understand these critics love fest for the film.

Snubs: A few other noteworthy performances this year come from well the known actors like Michael Douglas (Solitary Man), Leonardo Dicaprio (Inception), and especially Jeff Bridges for his portrayal of U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn in the epic True Grit. Each of whom offers a more memorable role than Wahlberg.

*** Best Actor (Comedy or Musical)

The nominees are Johnny Depp (The Tourist and Alice in Wonderland), Paul Giamatti (Barney's Version), Jake Gyllenhall (Love and Other Drugs), and Kevin Spacey (Casino Jack)

Analysis: It looks as though there's a wicked man-crush going on here with Johnny Depp. Depp is good, but hardly award-worthy in Tim Burton's imagining of Alice in Wonderland. In addition, The Tourist looks like it's far from a masterpiece (pure speculation since I haven't seen it). Gyllenhall was decent and the other two (Giamatti and Spacey) are proven actors who garner the occasional nomination purely on reputation.

Snubs: Robert Duvall, Robert Duvall, Robert Duvall (Get Low). He gives, hands down, one of the top performances of the year for any movie, let alone a comedy. He's the ultimate snub, and I can't understand how his role has become completely forgotten. Get Low had a very early release date this year, but Duvall's delivery still reasonates with me.

*** Best Actress (Drama)

The nominees are Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine), and Halle Berry (Frankie and Alice)

Analysis: I really don't have any complaints on this crop of nominees. I thoroughly enjoyed Kidman, Lawrence, and Portman in their roles. Based solely on hearsay, Williams and Berry also seem deserving of their nominations. No real complaints here.

Snubs: I believe and argument can be made for Hilary Swank (Conviction) and Naomi Watts (Fair Game). Both were very good in their respective roles this year, but ultimately, I think the Golden Globes got it right.

*** Best Actress (Comedy or Musical)

The nominees are Annette Bening and Julianne Moore (The Kids Are All Right), Anne Hathaway (Love and Other Drugs), Angelina Jolie (The Tourist), and Emma Stone (Easy A)

Analysis: Once again, the committee does a solid job of acknowledging worthy performances by female leads. I can't dispute any of their nominees here.

Snubs: None

*** Best Director

The nominees are Christopher Nolan (Inception), David Fincher (The Social Network), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), and David O. Russell (The Fighter)

Analysis: Perhaps you're starting to see a recurring theme. Four of these directors are worthy of their nominations, yet I question only one of them. Obviously, David O. Russell is the odd man out. The Fighter is a terribly overrated and slow-moving film. I don't see anything above and beyond with the film's direction, and it seems as though he was just picked to be picked.

Snubs: On the other hand, there are many other directors worthy of recognition. Danny Boyle (127 Hours) paints a vivid picture of survival and redemption with his 2011 hit. Also, the Coen Brothers do an excellent job teleporting the audience into the wild west with their overly snubbed feature True Grit. Other notable direction came from Debra Granik (Winter's Bone), Roman Polanski (The Ghost Writer), and Ben Affleck (The Town), all of which deserve some serious consideration for their excellent work.

*** Best Supporting Actor in a Major Motion Picture

The nominees are Christian Bale (The Fighter), Michael Douglas (Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps), Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), Jeremy Renner (The Town), and Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech)

Analysis: I am very surprised to see Michael Douglas land this nomination. Part of me thinks it's the Golden Globes way of indirectly recognizing him for his lead work in Solitary Man. Jeremy Renner is a bit of a surprise as well, but he's well deserving of it. Garfield and Rush are also warranted nominees, but Christian Bale should win. Despite my lack of enthusiasm surrounding The Fighter, Bale stole the film and made it bearable to watch.

Snubs: There are numerous Supporting Actor performances worthy of a nomination this year. I expected to see Sam Rockwell (Conviction) and Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right) amongst the nominees. A few others worth mentioning are Sean Penn (Fair Game) and Bill Murray (Get Low).

*** Best Supporting Actress in a Major Motion Picture

The nominees are Amy Adams and Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom), Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech), and Mila Kunis (Black Swan)

Analysis: I haven't seen or heard much about Animal Kingdom or Jacki Weaver's performance in the film, so I was shocked to see her nomination. The other four nominees were rather expected. Yet again, the committee gets it right with its female categories.

Snubs: Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) is easily the biggest snub here. She is simply wonderful as little Mattie Ross, the vengeful daughter or a man murdered in cold blood. A few other supporting roles that could have been recognized without debate were offered by Carey Mulligan (Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps), Dianne Wiest (Rabbit Hole), and Kristin Scott Thomas (Nowhere Boy).

Well that about wraps up my take on the nominees for this year's Golden Globes. I was shocked to discover that True Grit and Get Low received zero nominations. Both films were amongst the best of the year, along with 127 Hours, which only received a single nomination. The Oscars will hopefully make the necessary corrections, and properly recognize these worthy films. On a side note, many of the movies mentioned above are available on DVD or are currently playing in theatres. Be sure to check them out before January's airing of the 2011 Golden Globes, so you can form an opinion of your own.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Fighter: Winner or Loser?

Film: The Fighter

Starring: Mark Wahlberg (The Lovely Bones and The Departed), Christian Bale (Public Enemies and The Prestige), and Amy Adams (Doubt)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: David O. Russell (I Heart Huckabees and Three Kings)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 103 minutes

Mark Wahlberg is a tricky actor to diagnose. He's shown glimpses of brilliance in hits like The Perfect Storm and The Departed. Yet, he's been dreadful in other films like The Happening and The Lovely Bones. Every time Wahlberg has a new release, I consider it a crap shoot. You never really know which actor is going to show up. On the other hand, director David O. Russell must always see "brilliance" when he watches his favorite lead actor. With Russell's latest release The Fighter, he's turned to Wahlberg as a major role for the third time now. And unfortunately, the result is something beyond what I expected.

The Fighter is based on a true story and set in the mid 1980s in Lowell, Massachusetts. Dicky Eklund (played by Christian Bale) is a local hero who lost his title shot against Sugar Ray Leonard years prior. However, Dicky's legacy is built around the debatable notion that he actually knocked the champ down during their fight. But a lot has changed since Dicky's glory days as a boxer. Numerous bad choices have sent him in a downward spiral. His crack addiction and inability to live a normal, everyday life have begun affecting his family. Micky Ward (played by Wahlberg) is Dicky's younger half brother. As close as can be, you'd never know the siblings didn't share the same father. Micky is a stepping-stone fighter trying to get his shot at a title, but his unreliable brother and camera-hog mother, Alice (played by Melissa Leo) are holding him back. It takes a hard-nosed girl named Charlene Fleming (played by Amy Adams) to help Micky gain the courage to sever his ties with his family and take one last run at the title.

At first glance, the trailer for The Fighter is quite deceiving. The film is as much about Dicky (Bale) as it is about Micky (Wahlberg). Both of these characters are fighting for something. Micky, obviously, is fighting for a title, but Dicky is in a fight against his addiction. Furthermore, the trailer portrays a tale of boxing and overcoming obstacles, but the movie is more a character piece than a sports film. The Fighter tells the audience every tiny detail of a story. In doing so, the pacing of the film becomes borderline unbearable. What is merely an hour and 45 minutes on screen, ultimately feels like an eternity. By the time The Fighter finally reaches its conclusion, the movie has already lost the audience's emotional connection.

Despite its lack of flare, The Fighter does give you many wonderful performances. Wahlberg offers an adequate portrayal of the young Micky Ward, and Melissa Leo and Amy Adams are even better in their supporting roles. But from start to finish, it's Christian Bale who ends up stealing the show. His character is difficult to stomach at times, but that's the director's intention. As the film progresses, Bale's charismatic yet desperate nature becomes somewhat lovable. The audience finds itself more wrapped up in Dicky's story than Micky's, which feels strange as a viewer. And even though the acting is great from top to bottom, The Fighter, as a whole, is far inferior than the sum of its parts. It's unfortunate, but its true. You wait for a climactic resolve that never reaches the heights you anticipate. For that alone, the film is a let down.

If you want to see a movie for it's acting, then check out The Fighter. If you want to be thoroughly entertained, look elsewhere.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Black Swan: Over-hyped or the Real Deal?

Film: Black Swan

Starring: Natalie Portman (Brothers and V for Vendetta) and Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Book of Eli)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler and Requiem for a Dream)

Genre: Thriller

Runtime: 103 minutes

Black Swan is easily one of the most talked about releases just prior to this year's awards season. After director Darren Aronofsky's award-winning picture The Wrestler, he has quickly found himself atop the mountain. And it's never easy being on top. With great praise comes huge expectations. Prior to my screening of Black Swan, I joined the ranks of many other critics and set the bar high for Aronofsky and his pair of female leads (Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis).

Black Swan is set in present day New York City. Nina Sayers (played by Portman) is a member of NYC's ballet company. Very dedicated and precise, when the company's director Thomas Leroy (played by Vincent Cassel) informs everyone he is looking for a new lead in next season's Swan Lake, Nina begins to feel the pressure to perform. Then, Thomas explains to Nina that in the production, the lead must play two roles. The sweet and innocent White Swan, which Nina would be perfect for, and the dark and deceptive Black Swan, which the director believes is way out of her comfort zone. Ultimately, Nina is picked for the lead and everything seems to go according to plan. However, Lily (played by Kunis), the newcomer to the company has all the makings of an unforgettable Black Swan. Nina begins to suspect Lily's intentions of dethroning her for the lead part, and she must do whatever is necessary to find her inner Black Swan.

Very dark and disturbing, Black Swan has all the elements of a great film. However, something about it left me leaving the theatre feeling unfulfilled. The first hour of Black Swan has a noticeable drag, yet inevitably, the final 30 minutes of the film are filled with intense, suspenseful scenes. Aronofsky's intention is to show Nina's gradual transformation from the prototypical White Swan, to the unimaginable Black Swan. Unfortunately, in doing so, the acclaimed director slightly loses the audience. On the other hand, Aronofsky's Black Swan concludes with an absolutely unforgettable ending. Similar to The Wrestler, a slow build up leads to a climax that is filmed beautifully and delivered to perfection. The latter half of the film is definitely worth the price of admission.

Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Barbara Hershey all gave stunning performances, and there's a good chance they'll be recognized for their excellent work. And despite its evident flaws, when all is said and done, Black Swan is a must see film. This dark thriller is slightly over-hyped, but it's still a very good movie. Not great, but very good. If you can withstand a few stomach-turning scenes, you're sure to be satisfied as the closing credits roll. So do yourself a favor, and don't spend this year's award season saying, "I wish I saw that movie." Definitely spend 2 hours over the holidays checking out an Oscar-worthy film like Black Swan.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4.

Grade: B+