Friday, December 30, 2011
Film: The Artist
Starring: Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo
Director: Michael Hazanavicius
U.S. Release: November 23rd, 2011 (Limited - Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 100 minutes
What is the purpose of film? For some, it's solely to be entertained. For others, it's to be whisked away into a story that is both enchanting and transcending of everyday reality. No matter what your personal purpose is for cinema, Michael Hazanavicius' The Artist will satisfy the objective. Every now and again a movie comes along and receives an overwhelming amount of critical acclaim, so much so that it leaves you scratching your head. The Artist is not an example of such a film. Each carefully calculated compliment given to this instant masterpiece is warranted and well deserved. Alongside Alexander Payne's The Descendants and Martin Scorsese's Hugo, The Artist is one of three frontrunners for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. And by choosing The Artist, it would mean the Academy got it right.
Set in 1920's Hollywood, The Artist follows the rise and fall of silent film star George Valentin (played by Dujardin). As the king of silent film, Valentin is living on top of a world where nothing can bring him down. That is, until "talkies" (the term used for the sound-on disc system of film making) become the biggest craze. In a new age of Hollywood, Valentin quickly becomes lost and struggles to find his purpose. But with the aid of a rising "talkies" star named Peppy Miller (played by Bejo), perhaps Valentin can return to the heights he once attained.
With The Artist, writer and Director Michael Hazanavicius delivers an unforgettable journey into the ever changing world of cinema. The (mostly) silent black and white film is a gratifying experience that succeeds because of its leading actor Jean Dujardin. A shoe-in for a Best Actor nomination, Dujardin manages to take this risky premise and transform it into a must see piece of work. His performance is magical and, by all means, the backbone of the film. Dujardin, a French born actor, is a truly gifted star with unmatched talent. Hopefully with all of the recognition he's sure to receive, Dujardin will begin to dazzle in American cinema. In addition to the lead star, Berenice Bejo is simply wonderful as the up and comer Peppy Miller. Because of her fabulous performance on screen, Bejo should be a mortal lock for an Oscar nomination as well. Thanks in large part to its brilliant cast, The Artist is one of 2011's must see films.
There are many other aspects of the movie that propel it to elite status. Ludovic Bource composes an excellent score that assists the film in so many ways. Like I previously mentioned, attempting to sell a black and white silent film to modern audiences is a difficult task. However, Hazanavicius molds together a marvelous cast with an exceptional score. These aspects interweave together perfectly to make the majestic film that is The Artist.
There are very few negatives to the movie. The second act becomes a little warn out, but the script's continuous jokes help pull you through any dull moments. Since the movie has such a lengthy second leg, the ending feels slightly abrupt. But all in all, these tiny criticisms go rather unnoticed and must be sought out. Therefore, The Artist is a charming and delightful piece of film making that is worthy of all its praise.
The Artist is due for a wide scale release sometime in January. But for all of my friends in the Philadelphia area (and a few other select cities around the world), The Artist is now available and waiting to be seen. Don't waste any more time and make an effort to catch one of 2011's finest films, The Artist.
Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4
Thursday, December 29, 2011
On Tuesday December 26th Oscar Nomination Ballots were mailed out to each and every member of the Academy, and they have until the middle of January to make their selections. Therefore, when the Austin Film Critics Association announced their annual winners yesterday, I hope everyone listened closely.
Being from the Philadelphia area, I thought the only thing I had in common with someone from Texas was our mutual hatred of our beloved football teams (the Cowboys, not the Texans). However, I managed to put our gridiron disputes aside and applaud Austin's selections for the cinematic year. For starters, Hugo out muscled the competition and walked away victorious in the Best Picture category, garnering the highest honor. Like I've mentioned before, the Best Picture race is down to three films (Hugo, The Artist, and The Descendants).
Looking at individual work, I was thrilled to see the success of two films that the Academy may ignore. Drive and Take Shelter (number 7 and 8 on the top 10 list for the year) took home wins for Best Director (Nicolas Winding Refn - Drive), Best Supporting Actor (Albert Brooks - Drive), Best Actor (Michael Shannon - Take Shelter), and Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain - Take Shelter). With all of these precursor awards, Drive has received steady support from all around the globe and it stands a much larger chance at receiving a Best Picture nomination than Take Shelter.
For complete coverage and a full list of winners, click the link below (courtesy of Peter Knegt at Indiewire.com):
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Film: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Starring: Daniel Craig (Defiance) and Rooney Mara (The Social Network)
Director: David Fincher (The Social Network)
U.S. Release: December 20th, 2011 (Rated R)
Runtime: 158 minutes
Director David Fincher alienated tons of people when he announced his plans to remake the 2009 Swedish hit The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which was based on the Millennium trilogy authored by Stieg Larsson. Nowadays, the Hollywood remake has become taboo and fodder for criticism, almost to the point where they can't be taken seriously. Enter David Fincher's 2011 attempt to recreate an instant classic. Many complained that the acclaimed director would "Americanize" the film and, therefore, destroy the story. Objectively speaking, Fincher stays relatively true to the book (minus a few small changes that must be made to such a long novel) and delivers a captivating movie experience.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows the journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played by Craig). After being sued for libel, Blomkvist is summoned by a wealthy Swedish Patriarch to investigate a 40 year old missing person's case. With the aid of Lisbeth Salander (played by Rooney), an emotionally traumatized computer hacker, Blomkvist enters into a dark and sinister world he never imagined possible.
Highly engaging and entertaining to the core, David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a thrill ride unlike any other. Straddling the boundaries of the R rating, the movie is a gut wrenching and brutally honest depiction of Stieg Larsson's praised work. Topped off with a graphic rape scene that's hard to stomach, Fincher refuses to sugar coat anything. Even through all of these unfathomable scenes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo still manages to work. Fincher creates a viewing experience that makes it more difficult to look away from the screen than it is to just accept what transpires.
In addition to the film's uptempo pace and excellent storytelling, actress Rooney Mara dominates every second of screen time she's given. Prior to viewing the movie, you could chalk me up on the list of skeptics. Mara has never effectively "wowed" me with any of her earlier work, and I felt that Fincher was taking a big risk. Yet the director and young actress have proved me wrong. Mara molds together a character with remarkable depth and her performance is spot on. If the Academy chooses to go that route, she is well deserving of a Best Actress nod. Her co-star Daniel Craig is as good as we've come to expect from him, and the pair do a fabulous job of keeping the film enticing. Despite my previous concerns, Fincher does an excellent job with casting and it helps propel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to the next level.
Although the movie is unquestionably stellar, one major downfall resides in its extra long third act. The conclusion of the mystery by no means translates to the conclusion of the film. Fincher beefs up his runtime and pushes it past the two and a half hour mark by further developing Mara's character and tying together all loose ends. In doing so, the director successfully wraps up the film, but he also manages to test his audience's patience. And if Fincher chooses to continue on with the trilogy, the extended ending will serve as a smooth transition to the next installment
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is far from a typical Christmas release. The dark tale is a heart pounding ride that is brilliantly scored by last year's Academy Award winner Trent Reznor. Even with all of its shocking scenes, the film is still an easy watch. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo captivates from start to finish and its lengthy runtime flies by effortlessly. Fincher convinces us all that a winning remake is possible and, therefore, I highly recommend the film to anyone who can stomach it.
Stars: 3 stars out of 4
Sunday, December 25, 2011
There's always something nostalgic about Christmas. Perhaps it's the dire need to keep with heralded tradition, or maybe it's the fact that a new year is peaking its head around the corner. Either way, I've decided to begin my Christmas 2011 by dwelling over the countless films I've encountered these past 12 months. The year in cinema started out slow, as it always does, but it inevitably picked up steam. Chugging along through the fall months and into December, many of the Oscar hopefuls are finally reaching the big screen. And although 2011 was a somewhat weak year for Hollywood, there's always something out there worth appreciating. So Merry Christmas everyone, and enjoy (or refute) my list of the 10 best films of 2011.
Before I can get the official countdown under way, here's a list of strong films that just missed out on my top ten. Honorable Mention:
The Guard, Win Win, Hugo, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Source Code, The Adjustment Bureau, The Lincoln Lawyer, and Cedar Rapids.
On the surface, Warrior resembles a stereotypical and rehashed sports film. But when you manage to look deeper into the story, it's a tale of redemption and forgiveness. Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and potential Oscar nominee Nick Nolte do a fantastic job of luring you into the the history of the Conlin family. Each character remarkably unique and emotionally brittle, they're a family full of warriors. Therefore, when you reach the final fight between these two estranged brothers, you watch years of anger and blame pour out with each punch. Warrior is a wonderful sports film that deserves a lot more recognition than it's received.
#9: My Week with Marilyn
Michelle Williams proves time and time again how brilliant of an actress she is. This year is no exception as she stars as Marilyn Monroe, one of the greatest icons of the 20th century. My Week with Marilyn is a charming picture that dives deep into the human mind. Williams offers a stunning look at the emotional roller coaster that was Marilyn Monroe. And with one of the year's best ensembles, the movie shows the inner workings of film making and how the ego's of celebrities can clash.
#8: Take Shelter
The best way to sum up the fabulous independent film Take Shelter is with one word, intense. Witnessing this movie is like sitting in a room with a bomb and watching the timer count down second by second. From the opening scene, Take Shelter is a beautifully timed stroll into insanity. Michael Shannon stars as Curtis, a man unable to escape severe apocalyptic visions. Shannon and his co-star Jessica Chastain both give award winning performances and the result is an unbreakable connection between the audience and their characters. Although I sense Shannon may be the odd man out in the Best Actor category at the Oscars, he is every bit deserving of the award.
Thanks to director Nicolas Winding Refn for bringing us Drive, 2011's most stylish film. It plays out like a Grimm's fairytale. Ryan Gosling stars as the unnamed stunt driver by day and getaway driver by night. But when he falls for his married neighbor whose life may be in grave danger, the story takes a dark turn. Gosling commands every bit of your attention and the violent revenge-filled 3rd act is something you won't want to miss.
#6: The Help
Big Blockbusters are never the "sexy" pick for a top ten list. Therefore, I'm sure my inclusion of The Help will baffle some. Despite the movie's somewhat lack of originality and its overly animated characters, The Help is an entertaining and heartfelt film. It's never unsatisfying witnessing the good will and kind nature that humans can demonstrate. The Help succeeds, in large part, because of its leading actress Viola Davis who shines in the spotlight. There have been an endless amount of civil rights movies, but The Help manages to stand out on its own.
#5: The Music Never Stopped
Capturing the true essence of the father/son bond, The Music Never Stopped is a wonderful journey. After spending 20 years out of touch with his now memory impaired son, Henry Sawyer will do whatever it takes to reconcile. J.K. Simmons and Lou Taylor Pucci have a chemistry on screen that can't be matched. Their convincing performances are a backbone to this emotional tearjerker. The Music Never Stopped will give off vibes of a made for television movie, but it packs an enormous amount of heart.
#4: The Artist
I haven't given a lengthy review yet for Michael Hazanavicius' masterpiece The Artist because I wanted to wait for its wide-scale release. This black and white silent film is as every bit majestic as it's made out to be. All of the critical acclaim given to the director and his leading star, Jean Dujardin, is absolutely warranted. Littered with elegance and charisma, The Artist is justifiably shaping up to be the frontrunner for the Academy Awards.
#3: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Rarely is there a film that captures my mind as much as the British thriller We Need to Talk About Kevin. Tilda Swinton offers her best work to date as the mother of a teenage sociopath who's responsible for a school massacre. The film examines her deep rooted guilt for the tragedy and her inability to cope with the aftermath. Kevin grows up before our eyes and we're able to see his transformation into a cold blooded killer. This leads to the film's main question, who's to blame? We Need to Talk About Kevin is a psychological journey that will stay with you long after viewing the film.
#2: The Ides of March
Director/actor George Clooney's The Ides of March is an eye opening look into the deceitful world of United States politics. Clooney reminds us of the genuine intentions of newcomers in the political scene, and how easy it is to fall victim to corruption. There's no room for morals in the game of politics, and Ryan Gosling brilliantly reveals the inner struggle of a once ethical campaign staffer. Immensely entertaining and perfectly paced, The Ides of March takes you on a thrilling ride on the campaign trail.
2011 was undoubtedly a down year for cinema. Everyone was desperately looking for a film to cling on to. For me, that film was 50/50. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent as a 27 year old who's diagnosed with cancer. After learning that his odds for survival are 50/50, the main character struggles to come to terms with the severity of his illness. 50/50 offers a perfect combination of drama and laughter. Never too serious or too light, the film hammers home the importance of friendship, family, and human interaction. Every once in a while a movie like 50/50 comes along and reminds us that we have the gift of life, and it should never be taken for granted.
What did you agree with and what did I miss? Tell me your thoughts on the best films that 2011 had to offer.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Despite its strong showing at many of the precursor awards, the 2011 hit Drive never seemed like much of a contender for the Oscars. Albert Brooks is atop the list of Best Supporting Actors, but outside of him only Nicolas Winding Refn (Best Director), Ryan Gosling (Best Actor) and Cliff Martinez (Best Original Score) stand any chance of receiving a nomination. Yesterday, the stylish revenge film took a big hit in its quest for some hardware. The Academy released its list of 97 eligible scores and Cliff Martinez was among those not listed. Although the rationale for excluding Drive's score was not addressed individually, it's widely believed that it was deemed ineligible because of its overuse of tracked themes. Since the category is Best Original Score, the Academy most likely viewed Cliff Martinez's work as unoriginal. For a complete list of all eligible scores, click the link below (courtesy of Adam Chitwood at Collider.com):
Friday, December 23, 2011
Film: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Starring: Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight), Colin Firth (The King's Speech), and Tom Hardy (Warrior)
Director: Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In)
U.S. Release: December 9th, 2011 (Limited - Rated R)
Runtime: 127 minutes
It happens every year. For whatever reason, the stars seem to align perfectly and the delicate balance of giving just enough and not giving too much helps create quite a stir in the movie community. In 2011 Tomas Alfredson's espionage thriller, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, has become "that movie". In a year of film that hasn't been overwhelming by any stretch of the imagination, Alfredson's early trailer managed to generate some serious buzz. I mean, what could be more exciting than a Cold War era, who's the mole, spy film starring the vastly under appreciated Gary Oldman? Therefore, on December 9th when Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy began its limited release in the United States, my eager self waited patiently for the British hit and Oscar hopeful to finally make its way to Philadelphia. But as of today (December 23), the wait is officially over.
Set in 1970's England during the Cold War, the circus (a code name for the British Intelligence Agency) is believed to have a Russian mole somewhere at the top of the chain. The control (the head of the agency) has narrowed his search down to 4 main suspects but after a botched operation in Hungary, the control is forced to resign from his position. A leading government figure passes on the task of discovering the mole to George Smiley (played by Oldham), a retired member of the agency. In order to identify the mole and restore faith in the circus, Smiley must piece together what few facts he has and correctly decide who can be trusted and who can't.
Being sold to audiences as a thriller, Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy offers very few thrills. The director has every intention of building a suspenseful game of cat and mouse between Smiley and his 4 suspects, yet the attempt falls flat. Unfortunately, the picture develops at a crawling pace and never amounts to the potential it carries. Due in large part to its unfamiliar lingo and lack of proper explanation, at times, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy can be a difficult film to piece together.
A large saving grace for the movie is its star-studded cast. Lead by the always wonderful Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy offers superb acting from each and every first billed member of its cast. And although Oldman is undoubtedly fantastic in his role, Benedict Cumberbatch delivers the most memorable performance in the film. Individually speaking, it's a long shot for Cumberbatch or any other supporting cast member to receive recognition from the Academy, but Oldman definitely stands a chance at a Best Leading Actor nomination. Personally though, I can name (at least) 5 lead performances that are far more deserving of a nomination.
Another major advantage to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the film's strong third act. George Smiley and company's approach to trapping the mole is abrupt but clever. In its closing moments, Alfredson does an extraordinary job of tying together all loose ends with a brief collection of truly powerful scenes. Despite occasional speed bumps along the way, the film's taut resolution makes for a satisfying conclusion.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is far from the masterpiece that many had anticipated. The movie lacks intensity and numerous other entertaining qualities, but the picture does offer a creative story with a fulfilling resolve. This film is by no means a casual watch. Hence, if you're willing to be patient and put forth some effort, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy can be enjoyed. If not, move along.
Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Thursday, December 22, 2011
While at the 20th annual Philadelphia Film Festival this past October, one of the most memorable movies I encountered was a hockey comedy called Goon. Seann William Scott stars as Doug Glatt, a bouncer turned semi-pro hockey goon. The film, which is set for an Spring 2012 release, was entertaining on many different levels. As a sports movie, Goon offers a well crafted underdog story centered around the oddest form of team unity imaginable. As a comedy, Scott (most known for his role as Stifler in American Pie) provides an onslaught of laughter that reigns supreme until the final puck drops. Most surprising though is how effectively Goon resonates on a dramatic level. Scott's character Doug Glatt is a lovable buffoon just trying to find his place in the world. Check out the trailer for Goon (posted above) and keep it in mind for when Spring rolls around.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Film: War Horse
Starring: Jeremy Irvine and Emily Watson (Red Dragon)
Director: Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan)
U.S. Release: December 25th, 2011 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 146 minutes
Steven Spielberg is a director who needs no introduction. With his latest features The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse, the two time Academy Award winner (Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List) is using the final month of 2011 to make a last minute push for another statue. Clearly the frontrunner of the pair, War Horse has done fairly well (but not well enough) in the early stages of the awards season. Come February, we'll know for sure if 2011 is the year of Spielberg.
War Horse is set against the backdrop of World War I. Albert Narracott (played by Irvine) is a teenage boy whose family owns Joey, an unquestionably amazing horse. After Joey defies all odds and successfully plows their field in time for the harvest, Albert and Joey form an unbreakable bond. But when a disastrous rain storm floods all of their crops, Albert's father is forced to sell Joey to the English Army. Shortly after, Albert enlists in the army and travels to France in order to find his amazing horse, Joey.
With the Christmas release War Horse, Spielberg does the expected and layers on the schmaltz. As it develops, the film's exaggerated sentimentalism proves to be too much to bear. And although no one can argue against Spielberg's uncanny storytelling ability, War Horse manages to fall well short of its lofty Oscar winning goals.
Despite it's failure to reach expectations, War Horse is still a film that can be enjoyed on many levels. Joey experiences a magnificent journey through the horrors of World War I. Traveling across various sides of the war (England, France, and Germany), the movie delivers an eye opening adventure through a historically significant event. Furthermore, as Joey's course continues we are introduced to many different characters. Thanks in large part to Spielberg's storytelling, each of these characters offer a purpose that is unique and impressionable. All in all, War Horse is an entertaining adventure and an interesting story.
War Horse is a slightly above average film, that will eventually fall into the realm of the forgotten. Be advised, this is a movie about a horse. The Black Beauty-esque story follows Joey's journey and leaves you wanting more from the perspective of Albert, its main character. Newcomer Jeremy Irvine does a fine job in his leading role, however his character is regrettably misused. I was expecting a back and forth adventure between a man and his horse but, to a fault, this is not Spielberg's intention.
There are plenty of pros and cons when discussing War Horse. It's a mostly entertaining feature that claws at the door of being an epic tale, but never quiet makes it through. With a runtime nearing 2 and a half hours, the movie tends to lose its flare and leaves much to be desired. If you have little interest in the film, then I recommend staying away from it. But if you are eager to see War Horse, then I urge you to take the chance on Spielberg's latest effort. Just remember to temper those expectations, because there's no Oscar winner here.
Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Film: We Bought a Zoo
Starring: Matt Damon (The Adjustment Bureau) and Scarlett Johansson (The Prestige)
Director: Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous)
U.S. Release: December 23rd, 2011 (Rated PG)
Runtime: 124 minutes
Nothing says "Christmas" like some quality family time. Therefore, it's no big shocker that one of 2011's most anticipated family films will hit theatres just days before the holiday. Cameron Crowe's latest effort, We Bought a Zoo, couples the renowned director with leading actor Matt Damon. With his first picture in roughly six years, Crowe is hoping to duplicate the success of his 2005 cinematic masterpiece Almost Famous. Yet with only a PG rating, We Bought a Zoo will have to attempt it with a few less 4 letter words.
Adventures are nothing new to the world traveled journalist Benjamin Mee (played by Damon). However, months after Benjamin loses his wife, he also loses control of his teenage son Dylan. The boy's inevitable expulsion from school lands Benjamin scouring the housing market. But when the journalist and his daughter Rosie encounter the perfect home, needless to say, the purchase comes with some baggage. Their real estate agent explains that in order to buy the property, they'd have to take on the responsibility of the Zoo that comes with it. Thus, with the aid of zookeeper Kelly Foster (played by Johansson), Benjamin and his family embark on their greatest adventure ever.
With We Bought a Zoo, director Cameron Crowe undoubtedly delivers an enjoyable family film. Wholesome, funny, and often cliched, the movie appropriately does its job of entertaining audiences of all ages. The concept of owning a Zoo makes for a clever story line and Crowe combines the natural humor of the animals with a family desperate for some laughs. Furthermore, set against the backdrop of being recently widowed, the script does a nice job of utilizing the dramatic scenes involving Benjamin and his family to complement the comedic parts centered around the zoo animals. All in all, We Bought a Zoo is a pleasant viewing experience for the entire family.
In addition to the film's solid script and direction, Matt Damon headlines a wonderful cast that helps bring We Bought a Zoo to life. With each character so vital to the success of the movie, the onscreen chemistry of the entire cast becomes remarkably evident. Furthermore, each member of the Mee family is convincing in their respective roles. Mostly stealing the movie is Thomas Hayden Church as Duncan Mee, the over-the-top accountant brother of Benjamin. Church delivers laugh after laugh and he manages to keep the film light and never too overbearing. In her large supporting role, Scarlett Johansson does enough to avoid detracting from the film but never elevates her character to the heights she's intended to have. Yet as a whole, the cast does a stellar job of keeping the movie down to earth and believable.
As always, with a family film comes some deserving criticisms. At times, We Bought a Zoo incorporates its fair share of cliche dialogue and rehashed subplots. In doing so, the movie loses a sense of originality and authenticity. Despite its many strengths, there are still plenty of "been there, done that" moments in the film. All of these mundane aspects hinder We Bought a Zoo from standing out amongst its genre.
Over the holidays, a trip to the movies can make for a great family tradition and We Bought a Zoo wouldn't be a bad choice. Despite its limited ceiling and its lack originality, the movie will certainly entertain you. And if you're looking for a wholesome family film, then look no further. Otherwise, maybe you should set your sights elsewhere.
Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Monday, December 19, 2011
I'm not sure how many heads it will turn, but The International Press Academy announced its 2011 Satellite Award winners last night. Director Alexander Payne's The Descendants took home the top prize for Best Picture, and the win manages to reiterate the film's chances at this winter's Academy Awards. Although The Descendants won the battle, it was the movie Drive that won the war. Taking home four wins yesterday evening, Drive claimed victories for Best Actor (Ryan Gosling), Best Director (Nicolas Winding Refn), Best Supporting Actor (Albert Brooks), and Best Sound. As the races are starting to take shape, Brooks is the only representative of the film who figures to stand a significant chance at an Oscar's win. For a complete list of winners at the Satellite Awards, click the link below (courtesy of aceshowbiz.com):
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Earlier today the 69th Golden Globe Nominations were officially announced. As always, this opens up the conversation for "who got snubbed". After comparing the list of nominees with my current personal picks, I believe the Golden Globes got it (mostly) right.
Leading all films with 6 total nominations, The Artist is shaping up as this year's front-runner. The black and white silent film was followed closely by Alexander Payne's The Descendants and the blockbuster hit The Help (5 nominations each). Surprisingly, some upcoming big name releases like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy each delivered a goose egg. However, at last year's Golden Globes the Coen brothers picture True Grit received zero nominations and it ended up being represented quite well at the Oscars. For a complete list of nominees, click the link below (courtesy of Peter Knegt at Indiewire.com):
On the "snub" front, I noticed three big ones in particular. Here they go:
Michael Shannon gives an award winning Best Lead Actor performance in this year's festival darling Take Shelter. He's more deserving of a nomination than the two recipients Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar) and Brad Pitt (Moneyball). Shannon takes complete command of the screen, and I hope that the Oscars will get this one right.
In addition to Michael Shannon, Carey Mulligan was snubbed for her Best Supporting Actress role in the Steve McQueen film Shame. This is Mulligan like you've never seen before, and she does a fantastic job showing off her versatility. Although I haven't seen Albert Nobbs, I still believe that Mulligan is more deserving than the recipients Janet McTeer and Shailene Woodley (The Descendants)
Finally, another noticeable snub goes out to the film Drive. Certainly worthy of a Best Picture: Drama nomination, Drive is far superior to its counterparts War Horse and Moneyball. Also, an argument can be made for its director Nicolas Winding Refn. With a flooded Best Director category, Refn is all too deserving but difficult to clearly place above his competition. However, hopefully the Oscars will find more than just Albert Brooks to recognize for this excellent piece of work.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
With today's announcement of The Broadcast Film Critics Association's nominations, it seems as though the Oscars race is beginning to take shape. It's looking like the Best Picture category could be a 3 horse race with no horses allowed (my condolences to War Horse). For quite some time now, widely regarded films like The Artist and The Descendants have been front-runners for the award. However, with 11 Critics' Choice nominations (tied for the most with The Artist), Martin Scorsese's Hugo seems to have entered in the mix. For complete coverage and a full list of the nominees, click the link below (courtesy of Peter Knegt at Indiewire.com):
Monday, December 12, 2011
Film: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Starring: Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton), John C. Reilly (Cedar Rapids), and Ezra Miller (City Island)
Director: Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Callar)
U.S. Release: December 9th, 2011 (Limited - Rated R)
Runtime: 112 minutes
Ironically, since its debut at the Cannes Festival in France, We Need to Talk About Kevin has been the film everyone's talking about. In retrospect, director Lynne Ramsay's 9 year hiatus seems perfectly calculated, much like the actions of the movie's title character Kevin. The film, which is based on a 2003 novel of the same name, has officially been in the works since 2005. Sometimes, good things are worth the wait.
We Need to Talk About Kevin follows Eva (played by Swinton), the mother of a teenage boy who executes a brutal massacre at his high school. From a very early age, Eva senses something distinctly off with her first born child Kevin (played by Miller). As the years pass, Kevin's actions become more and more destructive. Eva tries to confide in her husband Franklin (played by Reilly), yet he wants no part of it. "He's a sweet boy" replies Franklin. Therefore, from the moment Kevin orchestrates a killing spree at his school, Eva spends her life bearing responsibility for the tragedy. She lives with the guilt of knowing she never did enough to stop the ordeal from happening.
Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton leads a phenomenal cast in one of 2011's most explosive films. The actress is spot on in her role as an emotionally drained mother coping with a tremendous amount of grief and regret. The beauty behind We Need to Talk About Kevin rests in the psychology of its lead character Eva. As Swinton demonstrates perfectly, Eva's guilt stems from two different places. First, she feels responsible for not stopping the monster she has known existed since Kevin was a child. Also, Eva sees far too much of herself in her son. All of her darkest qualities are brought out by Kevin and, as a result, she welcomes the abuse delivered by her community after the tragic events transpire. Such a brutally honest portrayal should land Swinton a Best Actress nod at the Oscars, anything less is unwarranted. In addition to Swinton, Ezra Miller gives a fantastic performance as Kevin. Miller is remarkable in his role as a cold and cynical teenager. He takes command of every scene and it culminates in a spine chilling experience. We Need to Talk About Kevin succeeds, in large part, because of its amazing cast.
Lynne Ramsay does a spectacular job of masterminding an intense psychological thriller. The film creates an obsession for the audience, a desperate desire to know why Kevin has done what he's done. All of this intrigue makes for a thought provoking movie experience. In a clever fashion, Ramsay gives enough scattered pieces of the puzzle to allow the viewer to put it all together. We Need to Talk About Kevin is wonderfully crafted and brilliantly executed. Therefore, it's hands down one of the best films of the year.
As always, there will be a few naysayers and skeptics. Many will argue that the actions exemplified in Kevin's early years are unrealistic and unbelievable. The young boy illustrates a stunning amount of understanding throughout his childhood. To me, however, this only strengthens the story and solidifies its authenticity. You should never take for granted the intelligence of children. And although the film progresses slowly, We Need to Talk About Kevin constantly builds in intensity and you'll never want to peel your eyes from the screen.
Not due for a wide release in the United States until the end of January, We Need to Talk About Kevin can be seen in Los Angeles and New York City this week only. But once the film hits theatres all across the nation, it's a must see. And even though the movie revolves around a high school massacre, much of the violence is left to the imagination. Therefore, no excuse is good enough to miss this film.
Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4
Sunday, December 11, 2011
The Los Angeles Film Critics Association announced their annual award winners for 2011's best of cinema. In a (not so) surprising finish, The Descendants walked away victorious in the Best Picture category. This marks the third straight Alexander Payne film to win the film group's Best Picture award (also About Schmidt and Sideways).
Furthermore, Shame's Michael Fassbender claimed the Best Actor title and Jessica Chastain kept up the momentum with her Best Supporting Actress victory. Shockingly enough, The Artist walked away empty handed by not claiming a single prize (no wins or runner up finishes). For complete coverage and a list of all of the winners, click the link below (courtesy of Peter Knegt at Indiewire.com):
With awards season officially under way, many people expect the film Moneyball and it's leading man Brad Pitt to take home their fair share of victories. On Sunday, Pitt claimed the Best Actor award with the Boston Society of Film Critics and the win will undoubtedly help him build steam during the stretch run to the Oscars.
Other notable winners were The Artist for Best Picture and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn) for Best Actress. For a complete list of winners, click the link below (courtesy of Peter Knegt at Indiewire.com):
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Film: Young Adult
Starring: Charlize Theron (Hancock) and Patton Oswalt (Big Fan)
Director: Jason Reitman (Up in the Air)
U.S. Release: December 16th, 2011 (Rated R)
Runtime: 94 minutes
Although Jason Reitman is just a pup, the talented young director has begun his career in a remarkable fashion. He may only have 3 major releases under his belt, but the director has already received two Best Director nominations from the Academy Awards. Needless to say, the anticipation for Reitman's latest work, Young Adult, has been astronomical. In the film, the director matches his talents with the always wonderful Charlize Theron. But the question still remains, can these two stars live up to expectations?
Young Adult follows a struggling fiction writer named Mavis Gary (played by Theron). The recently divorced ex-prom queen returns to her small town home in Minnesota with aspirations of winning back Buddy Slade, her high school sweetheart. No matter how much her new drinking buddy Matt Freehauf (played by Oswalt) tries to coax her out of the bad idea, Mavis believes that she can convince Buddy to leave his wife and newborn child.
With Young Adult, Reitman offers an overly cynical comedy that will ultimately result in a polarizing piece of work. Many viewers will cringe at the idea of such an unlikable lead character. And since the film is a comedy, Mavis Gary's despicable persona is extremely animated. Furthermore, without spoiling the movie's resolve, audiences will find themselves split over the director's choice of action. Hence, Young Adult is a difficult film to dissect.
Despite its polarizing characteristics, Young Adult delivers excellent performances by its main cast. For starters, Charlize Theron returns in award winning fashion. Her ability to portray a washed up and delusional middle aged woman is phenomenal. Mavis is a character meant to make the audience shake its head in disbelief, and Theron certainly succeeds in doing so. Just as effective as Theron is her supporting co-star Patton Oswalt. Mostly known for his work on the television show The King of Queens, Oswalt's performance is sure to place him on the map. In fact, in a year where the Best Supporting Actor category is flooded with options, Oswalt's work still manages to stand out.
Furthermore, Reitman's Young Adult is almost an "evil twin" to his earlier praised work, Juno. The two films are equally sarcastic and equally hilarious. The only major difference between the movies are how their leading female characters are portrayed. In Juno, the pregnant teen which the film centers around is likable and, therefore, it's easy to feel sympathetic towards her. On the other hand, Mavis Gary's constant lack of good judgment and her despicable actions make it difficult for the audience to empathize with the character. Otherwise, I find Reitman's two pictures to be quite comparable in tone.
Personally, I really enjoyed Young Adult. I found the film to be a brutally honest depiction of how certain people are unable to let go of their pasts. Mavis is just another example of such people. To Young Adult's advantage, Reitman does a fantastic job of balancing the comedic aspects of the film with the more dramatic moments. If you're able to keep an open mind about such an unlikable lead character, then it's worth checking out Young Adult.
Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Monday, December 5, 2011
Film: Hugo (2011)
Starring: Ben Kingsley (Shutter Island), Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas), and Chloe Grace Moretz (Let Me In)
Director: Martin Scorsese (The Departed)
U.S. Release: November 23rd, 2011 (Rated PG)
Runtime: 127 minutes
Martin Scorsese is performing a complete 180 on the phrase "family film". The acclaimed director, who typically spends his time making movies based on mob families, has set his sights on mastering the true essence of the PG rating. Scorsese begins a new chapter of his legacy with his latest work, Hugo. Truly a film suitable for the entire family, Scorsese delves outside of his comfort zone and into the hearts and minds of his viewers.
Set in 1930's Paris, Hugo follows an orphan child living inside the walls of the city's train station. After the passing of his father, young Hugo (played by Butterfield) allows Isabelle (played by Moretz) to assist him on an adventure to discover the mystery behind a broken machine which he possesses.
In an attempt to give as little away as possible, Scorsese's Hugo is a wondrous throwback to the origins of film. The director offers a delightfully crafted story that, on the surface, satisfies a younger audience. However, on a deeper level, Scorsese's work is intelligent and profound enough to captivate its adult viewers. What proves to be a perfect yet delicate balance, Hugo is a thrilling adventure and an exciting journey.
Once again, Scorsese does an excellent job of casting. One of Hugo's biggest strengths is the film's immensely talented cast. Who can argue the legendary career of the gifted Ben Kingsley? However, the performances of youngsters Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz prove to be most memorable. They are an extraordinary pair of skillful actors and will continue to entertain for many years to come. Furthermore, Sacha Baron Cohen demonstrates he's more than just an off the wall actor. The Borat star is sensational as the Station Inspector, a complex character straddling a thin line between stern and compassionate. All in all, Hugo's success is, in large part, due to its fine collection of actors and actresses.
Although the film's cast and script are wonderful, Hugo still has one small downside. With a runtime north of two hours, the movie contains a noticeable drag. Hugo's second act is drawn out and difficult to sit through at times, yet uncovering the story's mystery manages to help the audience push forward. And to its benefit, the film's resolution is well worth the wait.
I highly recommend Hugo to anyone looking for an enjoyable movie capable of entertaining the entire family. In addition, the picture is also a must see for any avid fans of cinema. Hugo offers a perfectly fitting score and exceptional cinematography. Scorsese and company recently were awarded Best Director and Best Picture by the NBR for their efforts in Hugo. The win is by no means shocking. For a delightful viewing experience, be sure to check out Hugo.
Stars: 3 stars out of 4
Sunday, December 4, 2011
With 27 more days to go, perhaps I'm a little early with this post. However, since December manages to be the poster child for Oscar contender releases, we can agree that most movies hitting theatres this month won't be flying under the radar. Through careful thought and selection, I've compiled my list of 2011's Best of the Unseen. Counting down to the most underrated film of the year, here are 5 "must see" movies that may have quietly tip-toed by you over the past twelve months.
#5) Another Earth is less a sci-fi piece and more so a psychological drama. Set against the backdrop of discovering a planet identical to ours in the solar system, a young woman seeks redemption for the unspeakable tragedy she caused a few years prior. This little independent piece carries a strong performance from its leading lady Brit Marling, and Another Earth's ending will send your head spinning for days.
THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE
#4) Dominic Cooper finally receives a well deserved leading role in the action packed film The Devil's Double. Remarkably intense and never taking its foot off the gas, The Devil's Double is a thrilling true story that examines the life of Uday Hussein (the son of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein). When a young Iraqi man named Latif is kidnapped by his country's government, Uday forces the man to be his "double". Fearful of his life, Latif relinquishes any sense of freedom he has and becomes a slave to the crazed and sadistic son of Saddam.
#3) Stars John C. Reilly and Ed Helms deliver laugh after laugh in one of 2011's best comedies, Cedar Rapids. Helms plays a small town insurance salesman who's in over his head when he's sent by his company to Cedar Rapids, Iowa in order to compete for an award at an insurance convention. This heartfelt comedy will draw you in and, even more importantly, keep you laughing.
#2) Win Win premiered at Sundance this year to what can only be described as rave reviews. Critics alike spoke highly of this family drama. Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a struggling suburban lawyer whose life takes an unexpected turn when he agrees to be the legal guardian for an elderly and mentally incapacitated client. When the client's runaway grandson shows up in town, Mike takes the boy (named Kyle) into his home. Together Mike and Kyle teach one another about the game of life. Win Win is filled with honest portrayals by its entire cast, and its gentle blend of comedy and drama allow the film to stand out as one of the year's best pictures.
THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED
#1) Perhaps J.K. Simmons is most remembered for his work as the father of a pregnant teen daughter in 2007's Juno. However, it goes without question that Simmons delivers his best work in 2011's most underrated film, The Music Never Stopped. Simmons stars as Henry Sawyer, a father who lost touch with his son for 20 years after the boy (Gabriel) ran away from home. But when Henry and his wife receive word that Gabriel is in the hospital recovering from massive brain surgery, they rush to the aid of their son. Incapable of generating new memories due to the surgery, Gabriel only comes to life by connecting old memories with the music of his teenage years. Therefore, in order to reconcile with his son, Henry must bond with Gabriel over the same music that ruined their relationship 20 years prior. Sometimes criticized as "Lifetime Movie-esque", The Music Never Stopped is undoubtedly heartfelt and moving. It's a wonderful true story that's brilliantly acted on all accounts. All of which make it the most underrated film of 2011.
Did I miss out on some other underrated movies? Leave a comment letting me know which films you would have included on this list.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
The National Board of Review officially announced Hugo as its choice for Best Picture of 2011. The film and its acclaimed director, Martin Scorsese, both took home wins in their respective categories. The organization's selections for other major categories included Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin) for Best Actress and a pair of stars from The Descendants, George Clooney (Best Actor) and Shailene Woodley (Best Supporting Actress). Christopher Plummer also took home the Best Supporting Actor award for his excellent work in the under-appreciated independent film The Beginners. Including a wide range of film enthusiasts, the NBR's influence on the Academy Awards carries a small amount of significance. For a complete list of winners and other additional information, click the link below (courtesy of Matt Goldberg @ Collider.com).