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Saturday, February 26, 2011

My Top Ten of 2010

With the Oscars only hours away I have done my best to compile this, however hastily done, top 10 list of 2010. As the weather starts changing again and the world warms a few degrees it can only mean two things in the movie world: we are in for a inordinate amount of sequels/ rushed comic book adaptations but we are also coming together to celebrate the best of the previous year in film- exciting stuff.

Obviously I didn't see every movie released this year, no matter how hard I may or may not have tried, so my list is confined by the films I actually did see. Feel free to disagree with me, as my top ten is probably different from yours... but without any further ado I present to you, My Top Ten of 2010:

Snubs: Not much can be said about these films other than they were not quite good enough to make my list. Great films, but just not the best of the best.

  • Scott Pilgrim 
  • Unstoppable
  • Get Low 
  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • The Ghost Writer 
  • The Kids are Alright

Top Ten:

  • # 10. True Grit- The latest Cohen brothers piece of work. 'True Grit' suffers from poor pacing, writing that is not up to par with former Cohen projects and an ending (however similar to the novel) that does not adequately finish the story. What saves the film is its star power: Bridges, Steinfield, Brolin, Barry Pepper and even Damon give tremendous performances. This film has no 'wow' factor and offers little besides the name 'Cohen' on the movie poster. The picturesque locals, decent direction and wonderful acting are no match for the swiss cheese of a script and overall lack of polarity.

  • # 9. Winter's Bone- The sleeper hit of the award season, 'Winter's Bone' is one of the more mesmerizing character studies of the year. Jennifer Lawrence give a really underrated performance as Ree, the absolutely facinating protagonist who struggles to keep her family together. What makes this particular film great is the script (winner of best script at Sundance) and how poetic and allegorical it was. A chilling and emotional tale that I would best describe as western, 'Winter's Bone' is a film, not packed with action sequences but tense enough to grip its audience and keep them interested until the very end.    

  • # 8. Inception- One of the most significant films of the last 20 years if it can usher in an era of intelligent, yet entertaining popcorn films. This spectacle, spawned from the 17 year-old mind of Christopher Nolan, is not only beautiful to watch, it is a creative exposition the likes of which Hollywood has never seen nor comprehend. However its brilliance lies more in the direction of Nolan and the strong story than the actual execution of the script and the acting of the films premier players. What was an interesting idea was ultimately overshadowed by its own ambiguousness and inability to answer many of the bigger questions it poses. A great film by any measurable means, 'Inception' is an exciting mystery that doesn't satisfy.

  • # 7. The Fighter- A tense, emotional, and realistic portrayal of life in the slums of Boston. 'The Fighter' benefits from excellent acting, understated direction and a realism that could only come from an intense understanding of the characters and their environment. What pushes this film out of my top ten is the overall level of cliche this film exhibits. Not unlike any other boxing film before it, 'The Fighter' provides the audience with cinema's ultimate underdog and the film's ending, just like Ewan McGreggor's junk, has been on screen too many times before.

  • # 6. The King's Speech- My favorite to win Best Picture this coming Sunday (although not totally deserving), 'The King's Speech is a virtual duplicate of 'The Fighter' albeit featuring worse direction and less cliche. Which apparently adds up to a higher ranking on my prestigious list. The script and the acting are both excellent and result in one of the better films of the season. Quite honestly Roland Emmerich probably could have directed this film and it still would have been OK, but what Tom Hooper does is admirable- though I'm not sure he was more deserving than Christopher Nolan for an Oscar nod. The film's cliche is more subdued than 'The Fighter' (although those of you who point out that the films tagline is "Find Your Voice" have a valid opposition). This is one of those film's that I enjoy after the first viewing but would probably never want to watch again- which is why its at 6 and not 3, 2, or 1.

  • # 5. 127 Hours- When I first had the pleasure of seeing this film I was blown away by the performance of James Franco. 2 month's ago I did not want to wake up after the Oscars on Monday knowing that Franco didn't have an Oscar. After seeing King's Speech my mind has changed, but it doesn't change the fact that this performance is Oscar winning material. Danny Boyle does a fantastic job with a very unusual film and creates an atmosphere of powerful emotion and empathy for Franco's character Aron Ralston, despite the fact that we all know how it was going to end for him. Clearly one of the best films of the year, but ultimately too indie to be in real consideration for Best Picture.

  • # 4. The Town- Wait, a Ben Affleck film in the top ten? Let alone even in the top five? Yes. Yes it is. 'The Town' is probably the most unexpected sleeper hit of the year (Social Network right there for number 2) that practically shocked life back into Affleck's fluctuating career. Much like 'Inception,' this film combines action with substance and great directing- Ben Affleck will win a directing Oscar at some point in his career. What separates this film from others this year is the dramatic, suspenseful scenes that offer the best white knuckle moments of 2010. Jeremy Renner is great, Ben Affleck is underrated, the story is kept fresh despite its cliched genre, this film has unfortunately been dismissed by much of the cinema world but it is easily the best heist film of the year, an one of the better all around films. Plus it has THE BEST trailer ever:  

  • # 3. Twilight Saga: Eclipse- JUST KIDDING.

  • # 3. The Social Network- The rightful winner of 2010's Best Picture, 'The Social Network' is a movie that defines this year, if not the current generation of teens and young adults. Combining the best direction of the year with the best screenplay of the year (even if it is not original), the film features one of the most interesting, if not despicable, characters in all of cinema. Years later we will all be looking back at this film seeing how it launched the careers of Jesse Eisenberg (even though he was already known), Justin Timberlake (a future perennial EGOT threat), Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer and Rooney Mara. I do not want to live in an America where this film doesn't win Best Picture, but I would be okay if any of the below films pulled a 'Crash' and came out of nowhere and stole the show.

  • # 2. Black Swan- Ok, I wrote the screenplay for 'Black Swan' (not really) and someone needs to produce it. How good does this pitch sound to a production company?-- "Here's the deal, it is a reworking of the famous ballet of the same name. It is a psychological thriller that blends fact and fiction, reality and fantasy, and follows main character Nina Sayers as she transforms from white swan to black swan, slowly loosing grip on her life and drifting dangerously into a projection of her fantasy. Oh, and there is a super hot lesbian scene. If you're into that sort of thing..."-- Ok so maybe it didn't go like that, but would that not be a great conversation? 'Black Swan' is fantastic, it is tense, well acted, well directed and ambiguous- blurring the lines of reality. What seperates this blurred reality from 'Inception' is the closure that 'Black Swan' offers. We learn what is real and what is not, and knowledge is power.

  • # 1. Toy Story 3- What other film this year made audiences laugh, cry, recall childhood memories, cry, entertain, cry and get us thinking? Joaquin Phoenix's documentary, which could have easily been here (sarcasm...) and 'Toy Story 3.' Besides being the end to one of the greatest 'trilogies' ever, TS3 asks and answers the big questions in life. Despite what will, and can, be said about 'Inception,' TS3 was THE EVENT FILM of 2010, racking in about a billion dollars foreign and domestic. Featuring impressive animation, the same great voice acting, nice direction and tear-jerking  storytelling, this film succeeds on all levels and, based on formula, is the best film of the year. Because the Academy cannot create a precedent for animated films winning Best Picture Oscar gold, otherwise the acting profession would suffer, TS3 will not be rewarded as highly as it deserves. However, that is what's great about the Oscar's and lists like this, there is never a definitive answer.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

'Pan's Labyrinth' Review

A blend of Alice in Wonderland and Little Red Riding Hood, 'Pan's Labyrinth' is a fairy tale story for adults. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, this film is more of a visual and allegorical spectacle than a memorable piece of fiction.

'Pan's Labyrinth' is a fantastic artistic achievement, to say the absolute least, but the world that is created by the direction of del Toro is so much deeper and symbolic than a casual viewing would yield. The film sends a message that is somewhere in between 'the only reality is the one in which we chose to believe' and  'truth only exists for people who know where to look.' This strong moral meaning only strengthens the films' motivations, symbols and themes, and gives 'PL' an emotional and rewarding ending.
Ofelia in Wonderland

Guillermo del Toro creates a world so fantastically beautiful and yet so hauntingly surreal that it becomes a pleasure to watch the main character, Ofelia, navigate it and attach herself to this parallel reality. What is great about this other world is how violently it clashes with 'reality.' The film colors 'reality' in blue's, and grey's, while Ofelia's world is in red's and gold's. However, even with this clear seperation, as the plot progresses the two worlds become more and more interconnected until finally something has to give.

Because the film is Spanish, and I do not speak the language, I was better able to pick up on the film's terrific acting rather than focusing on dialogue (which, it should be noted, is the correct way to view a film- in visuals not sounds) and I was blown away by the performances. Before there was Hailee Steinfield and another 'True Grit,' there was Ivana Baquero, the misunderstood, disobedient, loner who finds a world where she truly belongs. If she was great, very emotional and vulnerable, than (who I think is) the films main antagonist is even better. Captain Vidal, played by Sergi Lopez, is evil personified. He hurts and kills people with no just cause, he has major daddy issues and yet, on the outside, is so gentlemanly and perfect- otherwise known as character depth.

For all of its greatness I found the film to have 1 main flaw. For all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds it, the film is only a slight re-imagining of the classic Alice in Wonderland. To me the film would have had a bigger impact had it constructed its own identity and not borrowed one from a classic story that virtually everyone knows. It is certainly not plagiarized but there are far too many allusions between the two for me to consider this an 'original screenplay.'

This film is not as good as advertised, but it is exciting, it is disturbing and it will blend the lines between fantasy and reality (much like 'Inception' did for audiences this past year). A highly worthwhile viewing experience although it is possible one might feel as if they have been there before.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

'The Eagle' Review

Written by Jeremy Brock, scribe of 2006's 'Last King of Scotland' and directed by Kevin Macdonald, director of the same; 'The Eagle' is an ill-conceived, mess of a film that fails to capture the grandeur and excitement of a 2nd century adventure epic. This film has flashes of brilliance, however the script is rather inconsistent and the film fails to capture any sort of climatic buzz, making its viewing a non-worthwhile experience.

Featuring a career effort from Channing Tatum (which really doesn't mean much), and an above average performance from co-star Jamie Bell, 'The Eagle' focuses principally on the relationship these share as they venture together in search of a lost golden emblem- the Eagle of the Ninth Legion. This relationship starts off fractured as Bell's Esca is saved from death by Tatum's Marcus and is purchased to be Marcus' slave; but the two eventually reconcile and, literally, walk off into the sunset.

The films basic premise, or the 'story' is actually an interesting one, but the film itself is just not that compelling- and there are several reasons for this:

  • Lack of character dimension
  • Static lead performance
  • Cliched moral premise 

What became immediately evident through the films first few plot turns is just how one dimensional Marcus and Esca are as characters- dimensions of course being inner character conflicts that drive action forward. For the entire film Marcus (Tatum) is obsessed with finding the missing eagle and bringing honor back to his family's shamed name. Great character motivation, but not a dimension. He is stubborn in his pursuit of redemption but has no character traits that conflict or get in the way of his desires. This results in a bland film where the stakes are never raised nor does anything adversarial occur. Who knew Channing Tatum could be so boring?
Be nice to me, I'm sensitive. 

Piggybacking on the last part, Channing Tatum was, again, the weakest part of a Channing Tatum film. He doesn't understand how to convey emotions, and no spaced-out, talentless, over-hyped movie star doesn't count. But because a film is generally the story of a character, it is hard for the audience to connect with the film if the protagonist is lifeless. (Let's aside for a moment- Tatum is a terrible actor, obviously, but from his first on screen role in the Amanda Bynes comedy 'She's the Man,' he has improved by leaps and bounds. He has improved so much that I think there will be a time when he is in a movie that isn't terrible, or maybe that is just wishful thinking.

Cliched moral premise? Who even cares? The audience cares, though they might not realize it while watching. All films have moral meanings- it is the entire point of film, to send a message through an entertaining, not outwardly critical visual medium. Therefore every film starts with a message but it is only the great films that effectively incorporate the message into the story. I will not go into to specifics because this could easily be another post altogether. In 'The Eagle' the moral message is somewhere along the lines of following one's dreams, which has to be the most cliched phrase in the history of the world- utilized at every high school and college graduation speech since the beginning of time. Yes, cliches carry some inherent truth but they also make for static films that cause us, the audience, to see into the future of the film and know how it ends. Something that is bad for obvious reasons.

'The Eagle' is a frayed, historical bore, leaving me somewhat disappointed (its what I get for expecting big things from a Channing Tatum movie). One of my favorite genres of film, great historical epics have become few and far between these days, possibly spawned from the American public's lacking desire for films with educational substance. On the flip side, if these films are going to be this poorly made, I say bring on the comic book films. I just hope this doesn't come back to haunt me.

Grade: 32/100 (F)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

'Green Hornet' Review

Seeing the news that a Green Hornet film was in the works did not surprise me. Hollywood has a fascination with comic book films at the moment, and rightfully so because they are in 3D and make a ton of money. However, as evidenced by this film and the upcoming Thor and Green Lantern, not to mention Dark Night Rises and the new Superman, Hollywood is taking this cash cow of a genre to the well until the well runs dry. Honestly, when I heard that Seth Rogen was going to write and star in this film I vowed not to see it. Its not that I dislike Seth Rogen, I do like watching him on talk shows and etc. I just don't like watching him on a movie screen. He is known as an 'every man,' making us non-hollywood stars feel better about ourselves because he isn't all that attractive but he still gets hot women and has millions of dollars. No, that doesn't make me feel any better about myself, sorry. I would say that his only future in the industry is as a writer, not an actor, but after having to sit through 2 hours of Green Hornet I would have to retract that statement.

Filled with such gems as "oh my god you just punched that guy in the face," "wow, that was cool" and "this is so awesome," its a wonder why this film was even put into production. From the very beginning the scene is set for an unrealistic, cliched action film, substituting one-liners for character exposition and never justifying any decisions made by any of the characters.

The two Michel Gondry films I have seen before The Green Hornet, Be Kind Rewind and Eternal Sunshine, I really liked. They both had a unique style that separated them from other films accomplished by angling camera shots in certain ways. In Green Hornet, he sells out; conforming to Hollywood mainstream and thereby losing his identity, and the thing that made his films entertaining to watch.

In addition to the mediocre directing and woefully constructed script was the shoddy performance of the films actors. Forgetting for a moment my dislike of Seth Rogen, his poor performance was largely due to his characters writing. There was no character exposition, meaning that (unlike good writers) Rogen crafted the character around the story instead of crafting the story around the character. Dramatic films are meant to chronicle the life of the protagonist through the most important moments in his life; comedic films are meant to expose parts of society that do not make a great deal of sense. Because this film is both (or neither) and doesn't feature a likeable, humanized central character, the audience is not drawn into the film and we as an audience feel no empathy for Bert Reid when his life starts to crash down on him.

The best part of the film is the small cameo appearance made by James Franco, about 5 minutes in. It marked the first and last time I laughed, and was easily the most memorable moment of the film. Jay Chou's Kato was a dim bright spot, his spotty English ruined what could have been a funny side kick cliche. Cameron Diaz is terrible, she walks through the whole film with a shit-eating grin on her face proving again that she is one of the industries most overrated talents. Coming of his Oscar winning campaign as Col. Hans Landa is Christopher Waltz, the films main antagonist. It is clear that he played his role admirably, sticking to the script and trying hard to give his character human qualities that the writing didn't, but after watching him in this movie you begin to wonder why this man has an Oscar.

The Green Hornet is about as fun as a bee sting and as boring as living in the 1700's. If you are a screenwriting student, this is exactly how not to write a film script. A below average effort overall, The Green Hornet is the personification of what is wrong with the film industry these days: Comic book adaptation, converted from 2D to 3D to inflate revenue, hastily created by people who have no business working in this genre (Gondry directing action, Rogen writing superhero, Diaz acting) and leaving me wishing I had my money back- but happy that I didn't shell an extra 5 bucks to see it in 3D.

Grade: F (28/100)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Kings Speech VS. The Social Network: Which is the Best Picture

In a little less than a month, Hollywood's annual gathering to announce the biggest achievements in film will take place. The Oscars are a chance for our Countries best actors and actresses to come together and celebrate their work, while the rest of the country dreams about being that good looking, having that many friends or being that talented.

Because the Oscars are the last of the major award ceremonies and the ones preceding it award the same categories, there is really no surprise when it comes to who will win and lose on Oscar night. Christian Bale and Natalie Portman are examples of this for this award season. Christian Bale has won Best Supporting Actor honor at every award show that has happened so far (except for the Central Ohio Film Critics Circle Association Awards- but I'm not sure he wanted to win that one anyway), and the same goes for Portman although she won the COFCAA's award. --On a quick side note, the brains behind these COFCAA's picked Inception as the winner of every major category save for acting, leading me to believe that this 'club' is run by a bunch of fanboys and not individuals who have knowledge of what is actually cinematic achievement.--

Are you not entertained?
Let me get back on track. The Oscars, in many ways, are fake. A good number of the nominees knew they were going to win their respective category several weeks ago; of course Bale and Portman are going to win, Aaron Sorkin has been golden since October. Firth has best actor locked up, and best supporting actress doesn't really matter (they announce it first, come on). David Fincher is putting together his thank you list, just as the rest of his technical cast are putting together their's.

'So if we already know all the winners, what is the point of even watching?' Valid question, and in fact unless you know someone there, are into cinema or subscribe to People, Star and the other starlet magazines, you probably won't watch. The Oscars move too slowly. 4 hours of coverage, musical acts, boring speeches- I would rather listen to my Ipod at the DMV.

People watch the Oscars to be entertained, and surprised. The same reason they go to see all these performers in the movie theatre. In fact, the reason I am going to watch the Oscars this year is to see which great film will be forever labelled, the best of 2010. I have seen all the contenders, all great films in their own right, but I believe it has become a two horse rase between The Social Nework and The King's Speech, and with the possible addition of True Grit, these are the best films that I have seen this year.

A few weeks ago I would have said that The Social Network would win Best Picture with no hesitation, however after re-watching both films my opinion is different. I have decided to briefly review each one here, however, before coming to my final decision. Social Network will be written in blue, King's Speech in red:

"You're an asshole, but you'll be rich so its justified."
The suspenseful telling of how Facebook came into existence, The Social Network proves that not all great films are built from the same mold. Aaron Sorkin creates a romantic, stylised version of the life of Mark Zuckerburg, reigning Time Man of the Year. His characterization is peculiar, as our protagonist is, at least on the exterior, not a likeable guy. However he takes this mathematically inclined dickhead, and humanizes him by showing (however incorrect) that he creates Facebook to cope with his girlfriend dumping him. This Zuckerberg character was by far the most interesting character on screen in 2010 and much credit must be given to Jesse Eisenberg for that. The film in many ways is a showcase for director, David Fincher, and he proves that he is not just a one trick pony- but that he can actually direct a romantic drama. Despite all the positives, the film does have weaknesses. It seems overdone, as if they took a story about a historic occasion and glossed it up to make it more interesting that it was, or ever could have been-- Am I supposed to believe that busses full of attractive girls roll up to Harvard parties just so they can get with some dudes who may make it big, but just as easily fall on their face? The overzealous attempt to dramitize and stylize the life of a man painted in such a negative way doesn't impress me, in fact it makes me wonder if enough time was spent working on the script as went into making the film. Being a college student, it made me wonder if Aaron Sorkin did any work studying to write a script like this, or if he liberally copied and pasted from the book the film was based off. The Social Network was definitely one of the best films of the year, and one I would recommend to anybody, but I don't think this is a film I would ever see again.

Period pieces are always the hardest to assemble, authenticate and execute in TV or film, therefore when an attempt is done right much is made over the success. The King's Speech succeeds where The Social Network fails, with its authentic feel and realistic points of dialogue and setting. Speech is a prototypical feel good Christmas time family film, but it goes so much further than that, delving into the personal relationships that the characters shared. It is a film that does nothing special, in fact it is cliched (just another word for eternal truth), and predictable, but there is something about it that makes you emotional at the end. The reason for this is quite simple, the performance of the films 3 lead actors. Colin Firth gives the best performance of the year as Prince Albert/ George VI, spending every moment on screen struggling to overcome his stutter and unable to form flowing/ coherent sentences. Featuring a dedication to his role that all young actors can learn a thing from. The other notable performance was from Geoffery Rush playing Firth's speech therapist, and the antagonist. He is wonderful and has some of the film's best pieces of dialogue, but his character becomes less inspired by the end of the film leaving him as a cookie cutter character- utilized only to half heartedly push the film towards climax. Including the first two, this film is almost like a 'whose who' of British actors. Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, and Dumbledore, and this collective talent helps bring this script to life- catapulting a run of the mill story into Oscar contention (and probable winner). 

There it is, my quick and dirty spiels about the films that have a chance to win Best Picture. What I look at to be the determing factor in which will win, is the lasting impact of each of the films. I think that the Academy made a mistake last year with its winner (The Hurt Locker) because this was a film with very little social impact, that next to no one had seen until several weeks before the ceremony. It was a contemporary war story that could have been told much better had it been a documentary rather than a movie, and for Katherine Bigalow to throw around a pro-military stance in her acceptance speech was complete horseshit. She obviously did not realize what she was doing was a work of fiction, not a realistic, gritty portrayal of bomb techs in Iraq. If anything this film takes advantage of America's growing dissatisfaction with war and the average cinema goers idiocy, making no statement in the film for, or against war- instead using explosions and the usage of the word 'fuck' to catch the publics attention. If the Academy is supposed to pick a film that "represents the best directing, acting and writing efforts put forth for a film," last years winner was clearly Inglourious Basterds. And therefore going by those standards I believe that, this year, the film that most deserves to win Best Picture is The King's Speech, because it champions all three. And even though The Social Network is the most influential film of the year, rarely, if ever, does the Academy reward those films. Look at: Avatar (2009), Brokeback Mountain (2005), The Sixth Sense (1999), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Apollo 13 (1995), The Shawshank Redemption & Pulp Fiction (1994)... and these are just the films that have been slighted since I have been alive. Also a big factor in determing the winner will be the timeframe in which each of these movies were released; Network in October, and Speech in December and continuing to make money at the box office- potentially up until Oscar night. In what I think will be one of the closest Oscar decisions in recent years, the Academy will get it right and award The Best Picture of 2010 to The King's Speech.