Friday, September 30, 2011

Film Friday: September 30, 2011

September 2011 has been a great month for adult movies (perhaps one of the better months in recent memory), with Moneyball, Drive, and somewhat surprisingly for me Contagion all being as good as advertised.  Oh, and don’t forget The Lion King (3D), which was every bit as excellent as when I was 9.  This weekend I hope to finish off the month with 50/50, the Joseph Gordon-Levitt dramedy that should be right up my alley.  I do highly recommend all three (four if you count Lion King) of the above films, but I may save some thoughts for those in their own column. 

Right now, I wanted to write another installment of Film Friday and recommend a couple of off-the-radar types, as well as discuss another film that I’m pretty sure wasn’t good (more on that in a minute).  As always, the order: Good New-ish film, Good Old Film, Not-so-good Film.

Everything Must Go (2011)

After giving an outstanding semi-dramatic performance in Stranger Than Fiction in 2006, I thought Will Ferrell had given up on the genre altogether.  This film proved to me that he still has the chops and is still interested in pursuing more serious work, which does excite me.  Here, he plays Nick, a salesman with a drinking problem who loses his job, wife, house, and car all in a matter of one day.  He comes home after being fired from his job to find the locks on his house changed, and his property strewn across the lawn.  The movie is largely about his decision to live on his lawn and deal with his problems instead of running from them.

The not-so-subtle metaphor that the movie makes is that Nick’s problems are all out in the open for everyone to see, gawk at, and feel pity towards, even though many of those same people have their own set of issues and problems that they hide behind closed doors.  This is played out primarily through Samantha’s character (Rebecca Hall), a new neighbor across the street who has just moved across the country while pregnant. 

I guess the reason that this one worked for me was that even though it bordered on the melodramatic, it had the genuineness to back it up and a healthy dose of comedy (but not much) to balance it out. 7.5/10.

Persona (1966)

I strongly considered dedicating an entire column to this film because it was one of the more interesting displays of artistry that I’ve seen recently, but I figured after writing my last post on Another Woman that I’d really be pushing it with the snobby film discussion.  However, I thought it at least deserved a slot in this column.

Auteur director Ingmar Bergman’s films usually have some component of human psychology or philosophy, and that is no more on display than in this film.  The two main characters (and the only characters, really) are two women with very different life experiences.  The first is Elisabeth, a movie star who recently had a mental breakdown and has been rendered mute, and the second is her nurse, Alma, who comes from a more modest background.  The two retreat to a seaside home to administer therapy on the movie star. 

Things get very interesting at this point.  Due to the Elisabeth's muteness, Alma ends up doing a lot of talking, and soon develops a bond with the movie star because she can so easily and openly discuss her feelings.  It soon becomes evident that Alma has many problems of her own, despite Elisabeth being the mental patient, and Alma's shame and guilt is revealed as she confesses her regrets to the mute confidant she now has.  Alma soon becomes aware of how she is turning out to be just like Elisabeth, which produces contempt in her heart.  The result is sort of an icy psychotic thriller. 

As always with Bergman films, the cinematography is breathtaking, and if nothing else, you should watch it just for that.  This film isn’t quite as good as The Seventh Seal (my favorite Bergman film), but it is darn interesting at the very least.  8.5/10

Last Night (2010)

I should really re-title this last slot from “not-so-good film” to “see it for yourself” film, in this case especially.  The movie stars Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington as a married couple who have a night away from each other in different cities.  There may or may not be some cheating involved, but it’s not really about that as much as the doubt each of them experience in whether or not the other is being faithful to them while away for a night. 

There’s a lot of potential here, but it’s largely wasted due to a bad script, and horrible acting from Eva Mendes and Sam Worthington (although Keira is great, as always).  There is also some directorial flair going on here from Massy Tadjedin, and I hope to see more of her work in the future, hopefully with a good script. 

This may be a film that you enjoy, but for me the script needed a lot of work, and better casting choices would have been good as well.  5.5/10.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Film Friday: Screw It, I Want to Write About This Film

Two for you, one for me.  After giving you guys a thorough preview of coming films that I am excited about, and some overly in-depth Oscar coverage, I thought I would take this opportunity to take a step back and discuss a film that has been on my mind fairly consistently since I watched it a few weeks ago, Woody Allen’s Another Woman

I know, I know, I’ve written about Woody Allen films a few times recently and the thought of reading about one of his lesser-known films from the late ‘80’s isn’t exactly exciting or totally relevant.  But dang it, I’ve tried to leave it alone, but I can’t stop thinking about it, and it deserves to be seen.  So screw it, I’m going to review an old(ish) movie that practically no one has seen.

The movie stars Gena Rowlands, best known to teenage girls everywhere as the Alzheimer’s-stricken woman opposite James Garner in tearjerker The Notebook.  Here, she plays Marion, a university philosophy professor who is writing a new book.  Marion rents an apartment solely for the purpose of having a space in which to write without distraction, only to discover that a psychiatrist has rented the apartment next door, and, through the heating ducts, Marion becomes privy to the therapy sessions.  As she begins to listen to the conversations going on, she starts to examine her own life, as fundamental questions of love, friendship, ambition, and above all, regret, begin to overwhelm her.

I have never once connected with a female character as strongly as I did with Marion in this movie, and that, to me, is one of the major triumphs of this film.  Marion has a life we would all covet—a distinguished career as a professor, living in a fancy apartment in uptown Manhattan with her similarly successful husband, being invited to parties, fancy dinners in restaurants, writing books, etc.  

But, Marion realizes exactly how lackluster her attitude toward her picturesque lifestyle has become, and moreover, the outright fa├žade that it is. Woody Allen uses various symbols to display Marion’s dullness of life, the least subtle of which is the grey and brown-hued costumes of the main characters, as well as the low-lit and unremarkable interior design of apartments and restaurants that Marion visits.  Through listening to the problems of these unseen therapy patients, she begins to confront the various demons from her past, and ultimately, her present; only then can she start the difficult process of accepting herself.

I, and I assume many of you, relate to this human condition strongly.  I have weak moments where I ponder the monotony of life, which leads to questioning and regret.  When I hear a beautiful piano tune, I regret that I never practiced harder and became as good as I should have been.  When I see moving film, I often regret not giving the film industry a go, as you can probably tell.  I frequently see “friends” on Facebook and question the circumstances that led me to lose contact with that person, and I’m remorseful of those circumstances.  And yes, in the weakest of moments, I think of former relationships, and wonder if it could have worked out in some alternative universe. 

An emotional sequence near the end just about
wrecked me.
I have to remind myself often of just how good I have it—a wife whom I happen to be ridiculously in love with, a two-bedroom apartment with the Rocky Mountains in view from my deck, a couple of cars, friends and family that I can count on no matter what, and above all, a spiritual life that grows daily, providing a peace and understanding that nothing of this world can offer.  When I think of these things, I realize how low of me it really is to mull over a few things that can’t be changed.  In the end, that’s life: accepting that our choices—whether successes or failures—have made us the people that we are, and that we are better off because of those choices. 

Moreover, as Marion realizes, amends can be made.  Whether it’s me dusting off the piano and learning a new tune, or spending some time on screenplays I’ve neglected, or rekindling old friendships, self-examination gives us the opportunity to start anew.  We are more than able be the person we want to be, even if it’s a person we may have lost site of, like Marion did.  This process is difficult and often involves swallowing pride and exercising demons that are haunting our present, as this film portrays. 

Well, at this point I’ve pretty much thrown objective film criticism out the window.  Indeed, a dreamy montage at the end of the film portraying Marion in a rainy romantic rendezvous (which nearly brought me to tears) happens to feature a beautiful piece of music that was in my own wedding, so the chances of my being objective were slim to none.  But if a film can’t cause you to completely abandon objectivity every once in awhile, then what’s the point of it in the first place? 

If you have wrestled with any of the things I’ve discussed here in your own life, then I highly suggest surrendering a mere 81 minutes of your life on this buried treasure of a film, which is available on Netflix Instant, and for me is a straight-up 10/10.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Early Best Picture Facts, Predictions, & Reckless Predictions

This time of the year is really the kickoff for Oscar campaigning, with various festivals such as Venice, Telluride, and especially Toronto acting as a launch pad for many fall films.  So I thought I would get a head start this year on the Oscar over-analyzing, and start it off with a full-on discussion of the Best Picture race with a few facts, predictions, and reckless predictions.  In the coming weeks, I plan on breaking down some of the other major categories also.   

FACT: No more than 8 films will be nominated for BP this year.  If you’re not a complete dork like me who follows these things, you likely don’t know of the rule change that the Academy made this year, which is that anywhere from 5-10 films can be nominated for Best Picture, but to get in the field, a film must have at least 5% #1 votes (voters rank their BP choices).  This is actually a difficult threshold (the speculation is that last year, at least two films would not have made the BP field based on this criteria).  

As someone who follows the Oscars closely, I’m still not sure what to think of this rule change.  I blow hot and cold.  On the one hand, it’s cool that in years with an exceptional amount of great movies, it’s likely that more movies will be nominated for BP.  On the other hand, what if a film is really good, but a large majority of voters put it at #2 or #3 on their ballot, and fails to get at least 5% #1 votes?  Does it really not deserve to get nominated over a film that isn’t on most voters’ ballots, but that somehow still meets that threshold?

I am indeed predicting that the star of
'Norbit' will do well as host of the Oscars.
Regardless, it’s sort of laughable that the Academy has undergone two significant rule changes regarding the BP field in the past 2 years (the other being the original decision to expand to 10 nominees).  It smacks of instability in the organization, being blown every which-way like this and not standing by their decisions. 

FACT: No animated film will make it into the BP field this year.

PREDICTION: The Help will make a run at some acting nominations, but fail to be nominated for Best Picture.

RECKLESS PREDICTION: Eddie Murphy will stun everyone with his Oscar-hosting gig, and actually be very funny and a refreshing change of pace.  In making this prediction, I am assuming that Norbit was an elaborate joke played on the American public. 

FACT: For the first time in 84 years (and only the second time ever), a silent film (The Artist) will be nominated for Best Picture.

I'm just saying, I think this is
gonna win it all.

PREDICTION: One of these 3 films will WIN Best Picture: War Horse, The Descendants, or The Artist. 

RECKLESS PREDICTION: The Artist will win Best Picture (that’s Babe Ruth calling his shot right there).

FACT: Harry Potter will not receive a Lord of the Rings-style “career” award/BP nomination despite being one of the best-reviewed films of the year. 

PREDICTION: A Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris, will be nominated for BP for the first time since 1986. 

RECKLESS PREDICTION: It will be the last Woody Allen film ever nominated for Best Picture.

FACT: There is a 70-year-old dude who looks like Gollum who has been staring at me with a creepy frown for the past 10 minutes in the coffee shop I am currently in. 

PREDICTION:  The movie Drive is more in play for a BP nom than you think.  It will, at the very least, be in the conversation come January due to critical success and better-than-expected box office.

RECKLESS PREDICTION: The Gollum guy will have a stroke in the middle of the coffee shop if he continues the intense staring for much longer, and I will somehow feel responsible for this.

Don't you dare cross Walter White.
FACT: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Breaking Bad is the best shows on television right now, and in the conversation for best TV show ever.  Season 4 has just been otherworldly good.   This with all due respect to Mad Men, which is neck and neck with it. 

PREDICTION: Many of you will disagree with me on that last fact. 

(Speaking of drug use and violence) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo will fail to be nominated for Best Picture, despite critical success and a Best Actress nomination for Rooney Mara.  Just looks a little too gritty. 

FACT: George Clooney’s The Ides of March will be largely irrelevant in this year’s Best Picture race.  It will not be nominated.

(SAD) FACT: So will Polanski’s Carnage. 

PREDICTION: This year’s Best Picture field won’t hold a candle to last year’s in terms of quality. 

RECKLESS PREDICTION: One of these 3 long-shot films will emerge as a contender upon its release, and be nominated for Best Picture: Moneyball, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Young Adult.  Right now, people in the know about these sorts of things aren’t predicting any of them.

FACT: Transformers 3: The Dark of the Moon will not be nominated for Best Picture, even though they sent out an invite to Academy members for a special screening, specifically campaigning for Best Picture.  Excuse me while I try not to burst out laughing. 

PREDICTION: I have watched twice as many movies in the last 6 weeks as I will at any future 6-week period ever again in my life.  You want the list?  Fine: The Dark Knight, The Lincoln Lawyer, Crazy Stupid Love, Stranger Than Fiction, Source Code, Dog Day Afternoon, The Way Back, Hall Pass, Barney’s Version, The Illusionist, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Syriana, Another Woman, Manhattan, Alice, Kill Bill, Brothers, Heavenly Creatures, Insidious, Naked, Gangs of New York, Limitless, Network, Tangled, Unstoppable, 30 Minutes or Less, Sideways, The Lost Boys, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Win-Win, Our Idiot Brother, The Conspirator, Hunger, Dumb and Dumber, Hot Tub Time Machine, Secretariat, The Fighter, Bottle Shock, Mary & Max, Contagion, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, The Beaver. 

That’s 44 total.  In 43 days.  Judge me. 

RECKLESS PREDICTION: My wife will divorce me upon reading the prior paragraph.  (Actually, that should have been a fact). 


Now that I’ve made some predictions, here is how I see the Best Picture field lining up as of this moment.   My plan this year is to give you an updated chart every couple of weeks or so.  Just remember, I’m probably wrong. 

Best Bets:
War Horse
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Midnight in Paris

Trying to Separate From The Pack:
J. Edgar
Tree of Life
The Help
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The Ides of March

Long Shots:
Harry Potter
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Young Adult

Friday, September 2, 2011

Film Friday: The Top-15 Films You Should be Looking Forward to in Fall 2011

Fall is easily my favorite season.  People always talk about New Year’s as the time of year for starting over, renewal, resolutions, etc., but I’ve always thought of autumn as the time for starting over, personally.  There’s something about the weather changing, the shorter days, and getting back into the swing of things after the summer that really invigorates my soul. 

Top 5 Things About Fall:

5.  Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks
4.  Cooler Weather
3.  Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks
2.  Football
1.  Good Movies (duh)

As such, this is probably one of my favorite columns to write every year (see: only the 2nd year now) because it is ripe with anticipation, potential, and most of all, because I freaking LOVE making Top-10 lists (well, 15 in this case).  

Let the countdown begin!

15.  Contagion  (Trailer Here)

You’d think a movie made by one of my favorite directors (Steven Soderbergh) starring two of my favorite actors (Matt Damon & Kate Winslet) as well as a host of A-listers (Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Lawrence Fishburne) would be much higher on my list.  It looks intriguing enough, but I feel like this apocalyptic ground has been tread before, and I’m not sure how interesting and moving it can ultimately be.  Still—Soderbergh + Damon + Winslet = A spot on this list. 

14.  Young Adult (No Trailer Yet, Dang)

Director Jason Reitman is probably one of Hollywoods youngest success stories, with all three of his films having been heavily rewarded by the industry (Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air.)  Charlize Theron always brings her A-Game and she looks very interesting here as a woman returning to her hometown after a divorce.  I’ve heard this is a bit of a departure from his earlier work, but as long as Reitman brings his usual dramedy elements into the film, I have no reason to believe it won’t be good.

13.  Take Shelter (Trailer Here)

I’m not totally sure what all this film is about other than some sort of apocalyptic weather issue, but the trailer looks amazing and I’ve read that Michael Shannon (known most notably for his sinister supporting role in Revolutionary Road) is simply stunning. 

12.  The Artist (Trailer Here)

A silent film??  Yes, a silent film, which is already being hailed as a bona fide contender in the Oscar race.  Had I not already heard all of the raves out of Cannes film festival for this film, I would have said that it looks slightly too self-conscious and gimmicky for my taste.  But I will trust the general consensus that it is a heartwarming and effective film. 

11.  War Horse  (Trailer Here)

A World War I film?  A period film?  Based on an award-winning play??  Directed by SPIELBERG???  ABOUT A NOBLE HORSE AND A BOY?????   There’s no way this won’t be the best movie in the history of cinema, right?  Well, I haven’t read/seen the play but I hope Spielberg takes it easy on the sentimentality, because the trailer is absolutely dripping with it.  Still, Indiana Jones/Crystal Skull excluded, I trust Spielberg, and can’t see any situation where this isn’t at least the best popcorn film of the year, if not better. 

10.  Moneyball (Trailer Here)

This film wins the newly-created “The Social Network Award” this year for being the most incredibly uninteresting subject matter in a movie that could actually be very good.  The subject matter being the Oakland A’s, a baseball team that never won anything or even got to the World Series during the time this movie takes place.  However, it does have something else in common with The Social Network, in that it was written by Aaron Sorkin.  He rarely lets me down in the writing department, and when you throw in Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Jonah Hill, I’m pretty excited for this film.

9.  Melancholia (Trailer Here)

This film by notorious weirdo Lars Von Trier could turn out to be one that I either love or hate.  I’ve never been a huge fan of his work, although Dogville starring Nicole Kidman is one of the most interesting films of the 2000’s, IMO.  This end-of-the-world flick, however, looks visually stunning which usually means it will be right up my alley, and plus, Jack Freaking Bauer is in it, which is never a bad thing.

8.  Martha Marcy May Marlene (Trailer Here)

So all of this time, the Olsen Twins have had a younger sister who was prettier, a much better actress, is way more in touch with reality, and actually went to acting school at NYU?  How does that make sense?  In any case, her name is Elizabeth Olsen, and she is the star of this eerie indie drama that won Best Director at Sundance Film Festival this year.  Look for it to be a “little engine that could” hit in the vein of Winter’s Bone. 

7.  A Dangerous Method (Trailer Here)

Viggo Mortenson, Michael Fassbender, and Keira Knightley, in a movie about Sigmund Freud and his associate, Carl Jung, involving some, ahem, questionable psychological treatment methods.  Color me excited.

6.  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Trailer Here)

This Cold-War era espionage thriller starring Gary Oldman is one that has been on my radar for awhile.  If you’ll allow me to be my most snobbish self for a minute, the reason it’s been on my radar is chiefly due to it having been directed by Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson, who made one of my favorite movies of 2008, Let the Right One In (which is my favorite vampire movie ever).  He has the perfect tone to create a cold-as-ice spy movie and the perfect star in Oldman to pull that off.    

5.  The Ides of March (Trailer Here)

Political thriller, directed by and starring George Clooney, with Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti.  So you can see why this one wasn’t difficult to sell to me. Oh, and this is my favorite movie poster of the year, hands down.  

4.  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Trailer Here)

As a general rule, I am opposed to American remakes of foreign films, but exceptions certainly have to be made when one David Fincher is involved.  Rooney Mara looks crazy weird/sexy as the title character Lisbeth Salander, and co-star Daniel Craig should be a major upgrade from his Swedish version’s counterpart, which I thought was the worst aspect of that movie.  I don’t expect this film to be in the Oscar picture, but I do think it will be a pleasant return to gritty Fincher fare a la Se7en and Fight Club.  Also, a Fincher film has my favorite trailer of the year for the second time in a row, so that’s cool.

3.  Drive (Trailer Here)

The other Ryan Gosling film on my list is this Hollywood heist flick about a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver.  My man crush on Gosling would be enough of a reason for me to be excited anyway, but it also happens to star Carey Mulligan, who is probably my favorite under-30 actress right now.  If the movie is even half as good as all of the rave reviews have been so far, then I will be happy.  I do, however, hate that they stole the tagline "There are no clean getaways" from one of my favorite movies, No Country For Old Men.  

2.  The Descendants (Trailer Here)

Been waiting around for this one for a long time.  If you’ll recall, director Alexander Payne’s Sideways was my #7 film of the 2000’s decade, so his pairing here with George Clooney in a family drama fascinates me.  I’ve read that this film is a little less of a dark comedy than some of his prior work, but as long as Payne holds on to the emotional realism that he wielded so well in Sideways, then this should end up on many-a critic’s Top-10 lists this year. 

1.  Carnage (Trailer Here)

Two of my Top-10 movies of all time are A Streetcar Named Desire and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  The films are probably two of the best acting showcases in cinematic history, and both are centered around the interaction of two male/female couples, with varying levels of craziness involved.  Roman Polanski’s new film Carnage, based on the Tony Award-winning play God of Carnage, follows a similar formula as those two movies—it’s about the parents of two junior high boys who meet to discuss a fight that occurred between them.  Starting out fairly cordial and gradually deconstructing into craziness, it should be a very humorous and sadistic piece of filmmaking, and the acting quartet of Winslet, Waltz, Reilly, and Foster is probably my favorite cast of the year.