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Monday, December 13, 2010

First Oscar Predictions

As Oscar season kicks off with tons of precursor awards (the long and short of it-The Social Network is dominating), I thought it was time for my first stab at some predictions. Here's my current predictions for each of the major categories, in order of likelihood. I'll try to update them every couple of weeks, and things become a bit clearer.

The Social Network
The King's Speech
The Fighter
True Grit
The Kids Are All Right
Toy Story 3
Black Swan
The Town
Winter's Bone

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

Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Lesley Manville, Another Year

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

Supporting Actress
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Dianne Weist, Rabbit Hole

David Fincher, The Social Network
Christopher Nolan, Inception
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit

Monday, December 6, 2010

Black Swan & 127 Hours

The last two movies I've seen in the theater are both about sacrificing your physical self for various reasons, whether those reasons are for survival or artistic perfection. One is my favorite of the year and the other is also a must-see.

Black Swan

This has been my most anticipated movie of the year ever since I saw the electrifying preview, and it did not disappoint one bit. Director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler) is one
of the most interesting and passionate director working today, and this is another remarkable addition to his resume. What is it? A ballet movie, a psychological horror film, a dark fairy tale, and a depiction of the depths of the artistic process. In my view, it succeeds brilliantly on all accounts.

I want to convey all the things I love about this movie without giving too much away, so I'll try to convey my passion without too many spoilers. I love how this movie builds from a quiet and meditative start to a deranged, passionate, violent, and out of control final third. Arono
fsky builds tension and dread so expertly in this movie, I'm astounded. Between The Wrestler and Black Swan, I think it's fair to call Aronofsky the master of looking unblinkingly at the extremes the human body can be exposed to.

All of Arronofsky's skill and passion would be for nothing if he didn't have the perfect actress at the center of this movie. Unless I'm mistaken, I don't think there's a scene that doesn't contain Nina Sayers, played by Natalie Portman. Portman, who trained over a year for this role, is perfect as Nina. Her ballet skills are stunning, and she completes a remarkable character arc. I'm calling it now-I think she'll win the Oscar. My second-favorite performance is by Mila Kunis as Lily, the rival/enemy/friend (?) to Nina. She is the perfect foil throughout the film, and she had to learn ballet as well. Barbara Hershey and Vincent Cassel are also excellent in key roles.

Black Swan is getting quite a rousing critical reaction, and of course is facing some inevitable backlash. The criticisms I've heard are that it's a thin story, overly melodramatic, or too campy. What I love about it is that Arronofsky doesn't shy away from the melodrama, or the camp. He embraces it and it makes the movie that much more strange and wonderful. Perhaps you'll disagree, but it's definitely one you'll want to discuss on the way out of the theater.

Grade: A (My favorite of the year so far)

127 Hours

Speaking of body mutilation, here comes 127 Hours, by director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) and actor James Franco. I'm guessing most readers know the central dilemma and outcome of this movie, so I won't worry too much about spoilers.

For a movie about a man stuck under a rock, 127 Hours has a considerable amount of energy. I love how Boyle leads up to the central accident. In no more than a handful of minutes,
we immediately get to understand the energy, adventurous spirit and recklessness of Aron Ralston.
Once he's under the rock, it's up to James Franco to carry the movie. Much like Natalie Portman in Black Swan, this movie lives or dies with Franco's performance, and he does a terrific job.

[Spoiler Alert-if you don't know much about the movie]. One question to ask is why you would possibly want to sit in a theater and watch a man saw off his own arm. By the time I got to the scene, I was ready to watch it. I knew it was coming, I felt Ralston's desperation, and I just wanted to see it. In a way, it's a really beautiful scene. Ralston has a remarkable yearning for life, and I take my hats off to him for doing what he had to do to survive.

127 Hours was fascinating, superbly acted by Franco, and visually interesting. I wanted a little bit more about Ralston's character, though. This movie has some parallels to Into the Wild, and I felt that movie had a greater emotional depth to it. I really liked 127 Hours, but it's not a movie I'd go back to again and again.

Grade: B+

Other 2010 Movies

How to Train Your Dragon

This was a huge hit, both critically and commercially, so I guess I was expecting a bit more. I liked the dragon, mostly because he kind of acted like my cat. The main character was also charming. I just think the whole thing was a little too heavy on the action sequences and not especially original.

Grade: C+

The Girl Who Played With Fire

My favorite of the Stieg Larrson books, but I didn't like this movie as well as the first one. It just doesn't give the emotional depth to Lisbeth that is so interesting in the books. I'll still see the last movie on DVD, though.

Grade: C+

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Best Performances of the "00s": Actress

Finishing up my look back at the past decade (2000-2009), here are my favorite performances by some extremely talented lead actresses.

Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream (2000)

In Darren Arronfsky's tour-de-force of human misery, Burstyn's portrayal of the lonely, painkiller-addicted widow Sara Goldfarb is perhaps the heart of the movie. So remarkable.

Check out this monologue for an example of Burstyn's greatness.

Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

Is there a more lovable and singular performance this decade? Hawkins constantly teeters on the edge of annoying in her performance as Poppy, but we can't help but fall in love with her. In the end, it's Hawkins' performance that gives this movie so much added depth.

Nicole Kidman, Dogville (2003)

I wavered between picking Kidman's charismatic performance in Moulin Rogue or this emotionally wrenching portrait of Grace, a woman on the run in a small town which quickly turns sinister. Kidman, who has a striking charisma when put in the right roles, runs the gamut of emotions in this emotionally raw film from provocateur Lars Von Trier. Here's an early scene between Kidman and Paul Bettany, also great in the movie.
-Besides the aforementioned Moulin Rogue (2002), the other Kidman performance I liked best this decade was probably in Birth (2004). She won her Oscar for The Hours (2002), where I think her performance is good rather than great.

Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me (2000)

I think Laura Linney is a true acting treasure. I've never seen her in a performance that felt false or forced. Linney is hilarious, touching, and a perfect partner for Mark Ruffalo in this great film. Nuanced and true-to-life sibling relationships seem so rare on film, and this is surely one of the best.
-I also loved Linney's lead performance in The Savages (2007) and her supporting roles in The House of Mirth (2000), Kinsey (2004), and The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Helen Mirren, The Queen (2006)

This performance was probably the most awarded of any actress performance this decade, and for good reason. Mirren goes far beyond mere imitation to create a truly deep and nuanced portrayal of a chilly character in Stephen Frears' highly engaging political drama.

Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven (2002)

Todd Haynes' 2002 movie is simply stunning, and it wouldn't work without a perfect lead performance, which he gets from Moore. Her performance has to both play for style (as the whole movie is filmed as a 1950s-era melodrama) and for real, so the audience connects fully with the emotions. She's perfect.
-While Moore is one of my favorite actresses, I'm surprised by how few of her best performances are in the 2000s. Besides this performance, I love her most in Boogie Nights (1997), Safe (1995), and Vanya on 42nd Street (1994).

Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake (2004)

As a good-natured, but also naive, amateur abortionist, Imelda Staunton is perfection. Director and writer Mike Leigh (who also directed Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky) partners with Staunton to create a quietly powerful performance.

Charlize Theron, Monster (2003)

Oscar gets a bad wrap for too-often awarding actresses playing real people and beautiful actresses who make themselves ugly. Theron certainly fits both categories, but damn this is one hell of a performance. Theron is so emotionally raw in an already difficult movie, it would be hard for me ever to sit through the whole thing again.

Naomi Watts, Mulholland Drive (2001)

Watts probably gets my vote for favorite actress performance of the decade. As Betty/Diane, Watts has to show two completely different personalities. She's so successful that some viewers didn't even realize it was the same actress. Watts also has to play with cliche and archetype in this mind-twister, and she succeeds on every possible level.

Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Kate is my favorite actress, bar none. As Clementine, Winslet is quite simply the heart and soul of my favorite movie of the decade. Better known at the time for her British period dramas, it's surprising that Winslet was chosen for this role, but she is absolutely perfect.
-I loved so much of Winslet's work this decade. As good as she was in her Oscar-winning role in The Reader (2008), I actually think her work is stronger in Little Children (2006) and Revolutionary Road (2008). She also gave a great supporting performance in Iris (2001).

Looking at this list, my tastes diverged from Oscar a bit. Only two of these performances won (Mirren and Theron), while Watts, Kidman, and Hawkins were not even nominated for these great roles. As these actresses age, I hope the movie world continues to find great roles for their talents.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Best Performances of the "00s": Actor

Before Oscar season explodes in full force, I thought I'd continue with my look back at the past decade. Here are my picks for the 10 most revelatory, affecting, skillful performances by lead actors.

Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood (2007)

I'm writing these in alphabetical order, but I'm sure glad Daniel ended up at the top of the heap where he rightly belongs. I don't think there was another performance last decade as audacious, strange, and brave as Daniel Plainview. Day-Lewis carries this whole film on his back, and he is absolutely unforgettable.
-Also Oscar worthy in Scorsese's Gangs of New York (2002).

Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson (2006)

Gosling gets my vote for the most promising actor of his generation. As Dan Dunne, a committed but drug-addicted middle school teacher who develops a close relationship with a student, Gosling gave a performance lacking any false notes or histrionics.
-Gosling was also so moving and natural in a completely different role in Lars and the Real Girl (2007). I can't wait to see what he does with Blue Valentine, which releases soon.

Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Ledger is the only actor who makes both my supporting and lead lists for different roles this decade. What else to say about this actor we lost far too young? With Brokeback and The Dark Knight, I think Ledger qualifies as this generation's James Dean. It's amazing that he was only 25 when this astonishing performance was filmed.

Viggo Mortenson, A History of Violence (2005)

While his most-seen work this decade was in The Lord of the Rings movies, Mortenson's most brilliant work was with director David Cronenberg. As a small-town man with the past Tom Stall, Mortenson gives a brilliantly layered performance.
-Also terrific as a Russian mobster in Eastern Promises and of course in those movies about some hobbits or something.....

Bill Murray, Lost in Translation (2003)

I've seen this performance more than any other on this list, and I grow more in love with it every time. As washed-up movie actor Bob Harris, Murray creates a hilarious and lonely portrait of a lost soul without ever going even the teeniest bit over-the-top.

Edward Norton, 25th Hour (2002)

Spike Lee's post-9/11 New York movie is perhaps one of the most overlooked great movies of the decade. As Monty Brogan, a drug dealer about to be sent to jail, Norton gives a deeply emotional performance that ties the whole beautiful movie together. Just watch this brilliant scene, which is filled with hate but is subtextually a mournful love letter to the city he's leaving.

Sean Penn, Mystic River (2003)

As grieving and angry father Jimmy Markum, I don't think Penn has ever been better, and he's certainly one of our best actors. He turns one man's sorrow into a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.
-I almost chose Penn's performance in Milk. As much as I loved Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, I was firmly on team Penn in Oscar Race 2008.

Mark Ruffalo, You Can Count on Me (2000)

I don't think there's ever been a brother-sister duo as beautifully acted and felt as Laura Linney and Ruffalo in Ken Lonergan's lovely movie. His first big role, and I still don't know why he's not a biggest star.
-Also great in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I'm also rooting for a Supporting Actor nomination (win??) for this year's The Kids Are All Right.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote (2005)

Yes, Hoffman does a wonderful imitation of Truman Capote. But he goes so much deeper than that, giving us a multi-faceted view of a character who is simultaneously an outcast and an insider.
-I also loved Hoffman's work in Almost Famous (2000), 25th Hour (2002), The Savages (2008), and Synecdoche, NY (2008).

Tom Wilkinson, In the Bedroom (2001)

Matt Fowler is a very different grieving father from Sean Penn's Jimmy Markum, but his deep sadness may be even more felt by the viewer. His performance has to be great so that the surprising twists of this domestic drama ring true, and it is.
-I also loved Wilkinson in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Michael Clayton (2007)

Oscar did a pretty good job of recognizing my favorites. While only 3 won the grand prize (Day-Lewis, Penn, and Hoffman), all except Edward Norton and Viggo Mortenson were nominated, and Mortenson was nominated for Eastern Promises.

I'm also struck by the darkness of these portraits. Several killers, a couple grieving fathers, and a few substance abusers. Looking at the group, I'm also excited for their future work. Most of these actors make good choices in their roles, and I have a feeling many of them will be filling out the Oscar slots for years to come.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Town and Fair Game

The Town

Is working-class, Irish Catholic South Boston one of the most ubiquitous movie locales of the past decade or so? It's not hard to see why. Tribal loyalties, drugs and violence, an ethnic enclave slowly changing, and one of the best accents in the country. Add to the already crowded Southie team Ben Affleck's second directorial effort, The Town. It's a worthy addition to the field.

The Town is a perfect example of a really well-made genre movie. Its plot is fairly simple. A group of bank robbers (led by Doug, played by Ben Affleck) rob a bank and take a hostage during the robbery (Claire, played by Rebecca Hall). In order to make sure the hostage doesn't remember them, Doug checks up on Claire and they of course start a relationship. What elevates this story is some really great performances and some truly engaging chase and robbery scenes. I'm not usually a huge fan of Affleck's, but he was very strong in this movie. I think he could have used a bit more of a harder edge, but all in all I liked him. I absolutely love Rebecca Hall in everything she's done (especially Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Please Give), and she does a very nice job adding depth to a somewhat underwritten character (think Minnie Driver in Good Will Hunting). The best performance in the movie is given by Jeremy Renner as Jem, the extremely violent and unpredictable friend to Affleck's character. Renner, who was so astonishing in The Hurt Locker, proves himself as an actor again. I wouldn't be surprised to see another Oscar nomination for him. Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite are also terrific as always in limited roles as older members of the crime community.

So how does The Town stack up compared to its Boston forbears? It doesn't have the air of epic tragedy you got from Mystic River, nor the audacious violence and energy of The Departed, so I wouldn't put it in the company of those two great movies. I do think it's a bit stronger than Affleck's previous Boston movie, Gone Baby Gone, which I also liked but didnt' seem as cohesive. Affleck is a capable director who knows how to tell a good story and shoot a great action sequence. My biggest problem with the film is probably the ending. I loved the almost-ending (to avoid spoilers, I'll just say involving Rebecca Hall on the phone), but thought the scene after that was a bit hard to believe (Rebecca Hall in her garden plot).

In a year that's looking a little weak for 10 Best Picture nominees, I even think The Town, which has been a hit, has a chance at a Best Picture nomination. It's solid entertainment, and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Grade: B+

Fair Game

If you asked me my favorite performance by an actress during the past decade, I'd probably say Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive. If you asked me my favorite by an actor, Sean Penn's turns in Mystic River and Milk would certainly rank high. Give me a movie starring Watts and Penn, and I'm there.

Fair Game is the story of the Valarie Plame/Joe Wilson saga. For the first hour, the movie was terrific. It follows Plame's actions as a CIA agent, Wilson's trip to Niger to investigate uranium tubes, and how the Bush administration's thirst for war led to vicious backstabbing. The first hour of the movie is gripping, intense, and brings back the anger so many of us felt in the nation's rush to war.

The last 45 minutes of Fair Game deals more with the fallout from Plame's outing as a CIA agent, especially the effect on the couple's marriage. This material felt a little thin to me, and I don't think it lived up to the first hour. We still care about the characters, mostly because of the very strong performances.

Fair Game is the a movie that is engaging and highly watchable, but doesn't stand out as great. I don't see it playing much of a role in the Oscar race this year.

Grade: B

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Social Network.... and a few thoughts on other films

The Social Network

Give or take Inception, The Social Network is perhaps the "buzziest" movie to come out so far this year. It comes to us with ecstatic reviews, zeitgeist appeal (who's not on Facebook now?), and a truly talented director (David Fincher) and writer (Aaron Sorkin) combo.

The movie does not disappoint. From first frame to last, The Social Network is a highly engaging, suspenseful, and fascinating character study of a man (boy?) who is a bit of an enigma. It's easy to leave the movie and come out with very different feelings about Mark Zuckerberg. Villain, hero, tragic hero? The movie never really pulls it out for either side. Personally, I fall in the anti-hero side, but I'd love to hear from those who disagree.

The most accomplished part of the film is the highly literate script that moves quickly and tells us just about everything we need to know without being expository. I also loved the intense music by Trent Reznor and the performances by Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield. I've always liked Jesse Eisenberg in his earlier performances (Rodger Dodger, The Squid and the Whale, Adventureland), but goes beyond his previous performances here. He plays Zuckerberg as an obsessive, socially delayed, ambitious, and somewhat pathetic. I don't think he ever cracks a smile in the whole movie. Andrew Garfield, as Zuckerberg's partner, also gives a very good performance as the most sympathetic character in the movie. I also really enjoyed Justin Timberlake's performance as the flashy and charismatic creator of Napster.

As much as a I really really liked the film, it doesn't quite tip the scales to love for me. It was a lot of fun, and very interesting, but it's not a movie I would go back to again and again. It's being talked up a lot as an Oscar frontrunner, but I don't quite see it winning the whole thing at this point. It will certainly do well in nominations, but I don't think the older Academy will push it over for the win. It's still one of the most engaging and exciting movies of the year.

Grade: A-

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2010)

As a fan of the books, I was excited to see how the Swedes adapted Stieg Larsson's characters to the screen. What I found was a long movie that was consistently watchable but still didn't add some of the important details of the books. It was fun to watch, but I think mostly because I knew the characters from the books. Noomi Rapace gives a good performance as the title character, but she didn't quite fit my image of Lisbeth Salander. I wanted someone even edgier and stranger, and in the movie she came across as semi-normal. It was fun to watch, though, and I'm sure I'll see the next two.

Grade: B-

Babies (2010)

So this was kind of cute, but also pretty tedious after 80-some minutes. No narration, no explanation, just a film comparing four babies. I think maybe some Werner Herzog-like narration would have kept me more interested.

There were several scenes where the babies interacted with cats that I loved. I would have liked it better if it was called "Cats" and just had a few scenes of babies. What does that say about me?

Grade: C

Monday, October 4, 2010

Why Children of Men is a Masterpiece

Have you ever been blown away by a film, but only on a second viewing? This recently happened to me with Children of Men. I saw the movie a few years ago and I admired it quite a bit. When I watched it last week though, it completely overwhelmed me with its brilliance and emotional impact. Whereas before I didn't include it on my Top 10 of 2006 list, I honestly think it's now my favorite movie of that year.

Here's a few reasons why it's brilliant.....

1. The Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. There is not a wasted shot in this entire movie. It's often easy to make beautiful vistas look beautiful, but here Lubezki has to engage us in a movie that is ugly both emotionally and physically. There are several bravura sequences: The opening sequence, the car chase that ends in a killing, and the entrance into the immigration camp. In several of these sequences, Lubezki tells the whole story in a single shot. Check out the clip below to see what a master he is.

Movie Videos & Movie Scenes at

2. Clive Owen. There are many modern actors who work at being chameleons, slipping into roles with new accents and new tricks for each role. Clive Owen strikes me as more of a classic Hollywood actor. He plays a similar archetype in the movies, a world-weary observer of those around him (Closer, Gosford Park). Within each role though, he finds new depths. I think Children of Men is perhaps his best performance, showing a man who has built up a shell and how that shell is gently cracked.

3. The Uncompromised Vision. I can't imagine that director Alfanso Cuaron wasn't pressured to make this story more palatable to Hollywood audiences. I'm glad he stuck to his guns. There are several instances where major characters disappear from the story, and these lend a shocking power to the movie. He also has the strength to throw in just enough gallows humor to keep the viewer from being entirely overwhelmed.

4. The Political/Religious Allegory. I'm not always one for allegories in movies, since they can too often just be obvious or devoid of any true meaning. Here's one who's allegory works on many levels. Politically, the world depicted in Children of Men is realistic enough that I can imagine it happening if world events take a certain turn. The immigrant-bashing, homeland security, and general hopelessness seem all to real, yet you're not hit over the head with it.

I tend to like Christian allegories even less in movies. If I watch "The Green Mile" and notice that Michael Clarke Duncan's character is a Christ figure, does that illuminate anything about either the movie or faith to me? No. In Children of Men, I truly connected with its central premise of the first "child" being born into a viscous world in need of hope. Watching the character of Kee have a child in a dingy abandoned apartment, I couldn't help but think how sanitized the Christmas story has become. Children of Movie is the rare movie that actually made me think about religious ideas in a new and complex way.

I'm so glad I took the chance to watch this movie again. Do any of my readers have similar stories? Movies you liked the first time but grew into your favorites?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Most Anticipated....

So, despite several very good movies that came out so far this year (Toy Story 3, The Kids Are All Right, Winter's Bone), I still get the feeling that 2010 has been a tad lackluster in terms of film for the year. The upcoming months (Oct-Dec) should hold a plethora of interesting movies for us to see..... Here are my personally most anticipated movies.

1. Black Swan: Director Darren Arronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) directs Natalie Portman in a movie about a ballerina and her archrival. The preview has an awesome Rosemary's Baby vibe, and it's been getting great buzz in the blogosphere. I absolutely cannot wait. I'll be there opening weekend.

2. The Social Network: Director David Fincher tells the dark story of the beginning of Facebook. While Benjamin Button was bloated and overdone, Fincher has done great work in the past (Zodiac, Fight Club) Another one with great buzz.

3. Another Year: Director Mike Leigh is one of the great treaures of modern cinema. I love his naturalistic portraits of life in everyday Britain. I also think perhaps the worst Oscar snub of the decade was the lack of nomination for Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky for Best Actress in 2008. Lesley Manville is getting similar buzz for this one, and it also has old Leigh favorite Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton.

4. True Grit: The Coen Brothers entry of the year. They made my favorite movie of the year last year (A Serious Man). This is a remake of a John Wayne movie and stars Jeff Bridges. I'm intrigued.....

5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. So this probably won't end up being in the top 5 of the year, but I really can't wait for it. I've really enjoyed every Potter movie since Part 3, and I can't wait to see how they (begin) to wrap it up on screen.

I'm also looking forward to: The King's Speech, The Way Back, The Fighter, Rabbit Hole, Never Let Me Go, and Biutiful.

Anyone else? What has you salivating from the upcoming season?

Friday, September 17, 2010

It's Been Way Too Long

All right loyal blog readers, if you've been anxiously awaiting my next post, here it is. I'm a month into the school year and I'm finally finding some time to write.

You might think that I had plenty of time to blog during my summer vacation. I watched plenty of movies, however, probably an average of 5 a week throughout the summer, but I somehow never got caught up on the blogging (perhaps I just decided to watch more movies rather than blog....)

I'll blog a bit on my movies from 2010, and very quick notes on others I've seen.


Shutter Island

I guessed the plot twist in this movie, so that kind of made me lose interest in it. Stylistically it has a great old Hollywood feel and Leonardo was quite good, as were Mark Ruffalo and Patricia Clarkson in a very small role. Well-directed, atmospheric, yet it all felt very familiar.

Grade: C+

Prodigal Sons

This movie is about a transgender woman returning to her high school reunion in Montana. Plenty of material, right? That's actually only the start of this very engaging film. It delves into mental illness and (believe it or not) Hollywood history. Definitely worth seeking out-it's on Netflix Watch Now.

Grade: B+

I Am Love

Beautiful and a little strange. The always incredible Tilda Swinton stars as a Russian-Italian woman who finds love in the Italian countryside with her adult son's best friend. This movie tells a melodramatic story with very little dialogue and an intense dedication to the physical beauty of the scene. I really enjoyed seeing it in the theater, but I'm not as sure it's a movie that will hold up as well on the smaller screen.

Grade: B

City Island

Very charming ethnic family comedy with Andy Garcia as a put upon dad whose family has a whole lot of secrets. I didn't quite buy the subplot with the son who was into fat women, but the rest of the movie was a lot of fun to watch.

Grade: B

The Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski's latest film is about a journalist (Ewan McGregor) who is hired to ghostwrite the autobiography of a disgraced British politician (Pierce Brosnan). Pretty good through the first half, but I found the revelations and denouement of the movie a little unsatisfying.

Grade: C+

Very short thoughts on other films (grouped by grade)


The New World (2005)

Wow. This movie was spellbinding and absolutely gorgeous, I'm not quite sure how I missed this one. The story of John Smith and Pocahontas is told with a you-are-there feeling and with a true sense of discovery. This movie was slightly divisive in its reception, and it's probably not for all tastes, but I think it's a masterpiece.


Spirited Away (2001)

I'm not usually a big fan of anime, but the rapturous critical reputation of this film led me to it. I wasn't disappointed. A sort of "Wizard of Oz" tale in a traditional Japanese bathhouse. Very beautiful, strange, and haunting.

Raising Arizona (1987)

Hadn't seen this one in a while. I actually saw it outdoors in Minneapolis with the closed captions on, and it really highlight the brilliant Coen Brothers dialogue. Hilarious.

Day for Night (1973)

One of the best movies about making movies, this Truffaut film is about a French production team making a not all that great movie. The scene where the director remembers stealing "Citizen Kane" photos from a local theater is one of my favorite scenes ever. Charming and poignant.

L'Enfant (2005)

Another gem from the Belgian Dardenne Brothers, who make movies about those living in the underbelly of modern Europe. This one's about an immature young father and the choices he makes. Very moving and expertly made.


The Gleaners and I (2001)

French documentary about those who glean, be it crops, trash, or art. Very contemplative and thought-provoking. Made me think about modern life in a new way.

The Maid (2009)

Chilean film about a maid with an intense loyalty to her family, and an intense hatred of the new maids. Dark, funny, and also a bit touching. Definitely worth a look.


Margot at the Wedding (2007)

My least favorite of Noah Baumbach's movies (after The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, and Kicking and Screaming), but still worth a look for the hyper-articulate dialogue and the great performances by Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh as fairly unlikable sisters.

Friends with Money (2006)

To repeat myself, my least favorite of Nicole Holofcener's movies (after Please Give and Lovely and Amazing), but still entertaining look at modern female lives. Jennifer Aniston is pretty good, and the other women (Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener, and Joan Cusack) are very good.

The Best of Youth (2006)

I'd heard really great things about this 6-hour Italian miniseries, so I have to say I was a little disappointed. It follows two brothers from the 1960s to the present day. Many of the subplots are very moving, but it moves a little too fast through time.

High Art (1998)

Director Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right) made her debut with this movie about a young woman (Radha Mitchell) who falls in love with a drug-addicted artist (Ally Sheedy). Sheedy and Patricia Clarkson (as her German lover) are phenomenal in the movie, and the movie is quite engaging, but it doesn't quite add up to a great film.


Paranoid Park (2008)

Director Gus Van Sant seems to switch between relatively commercial films (Milk, Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester) and Arty with a capital A films (Elephant, Latter Days, Gerry). This is definitely one of the arty ones. About a young skateboarding teen who accidentally commits and then covers up a crime. I really liked the portrayal of teenagers who actually look and act like teens, and not like 22-year-olds, but the elegaic scenes of skateboarding got a tad long.


Ballast (2008)

I usually like slow, character-driven dramas, but this one was real slow and mumbly. About a family in the Mississippi delta dealing with a suicide, the movie kind of rambles along with its characters, and never truly reveals that much about them, at least to my eyes. Kind of similar to George Washington (2000), but not nearly as good.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Best Performances of the "00s": Supporting Actress

Onward with my look back at the past decade. Here are my favorite Supporting Actress performances of the decade. Once again, lots of clips to go with my posts, so you may want to go over to my blog if you're reading this on Facebook.

Amy Adams, Junebug (2005)

In this family drama, one of my favorite movies of the decade, Amy Adams stole the show as Ashley, a young Southern wife and expectant mother who is obsessed with her big city relatives. Adams crafts a hilarious and heartbreaking portrait, and became a star..

Cate Blanchett, The Aviator (2004)

I seriously deliberated whether to award Blanchett for her portrait of Katharine Hepburn in Scorsese's biopic, or as one of the versions of Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes' sort-of biopic, I'm Not There. Blanchett is never better than when doing real-life portraits with heart (see Elizabeth, her breakout role). In The Aviator, Blanchett stole every scene she was in and was a true highlight of the film.

Patricia Clarkson, Far From Heaven (2002)

I think might vote for Clarkson as MVP of supporting actresses. She always shines without being showy, and she always puts her all into her roles, whether they be supporting or lead. In one of my favorite movies of the decade, Clarkson plays Eleanor, a loyal best friend to Cathy Whitaker until she finds out about an interracial romance.
-Clarkson was so great in many movies this decade, but particularly her supporting roles in Dogville (2003) and Pieces of April (2003) and her lead role in The Station Agent (2003). All in one year!

Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Remember when we mostly knew Cruz as Tom Cruise's girlfriend. In her bilingual role as fiery artist Maria Elena, Cruz was absolutely hilarious in Woody Allen's very enjoyable European comedy-drama. Her vitriol toward Scarlett Johannson in the following clip is hilarious....
-Also tremendous (not to mention stunningly beautiful) in the Almodovar films Volver (2006) and Broken Embraces (2009)

Viola Davis, Doubt (2008)

Davis has a very brief role, as Mrs. Miller, the mother of a boy who Sister Aloysius suspects is being abused by a priest, but man does she make the most of it. It's hard to steal a movie from Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but there's no doubt (pardon the pun) that Davis does it. She even allows her nose to get snotty in the process.

Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air (2009)

As Alex, the female counterpart to Clooney's Ryan Bingham, Farmiga brings a grown-up sexiness to her role. I watched the movie a second time, and I felt that her performance even deepened knowing more about her character the whole way through. I'm hoping Hollywood finds more great roles for Farmiga, because she's a true treasure. I even wrote a blog post just on her performance.
-Also did excellent supporting work among all the boys in The Departed (2006)

Catherine Keener, Capote (2006)

As Harper Lee, best friend to eccentric author Truman Capote, Keener creates the soul of this great film and matches the masterful performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Keener can create all kinds of characters, from very good (such as here) to very mean (see Being John Malkovich)
-This indie queen was excellent in so much this decade. I particularly liked her troubled housewife in Lovely and Amazing (2001) and her surrogate mother in Into the Wild (2007).

Mo'nique, Precious (2009)

As a true mother from hell, Mo'nique puts her full heart and soul into her performance as Mary Jones, the abusive mother to a troubled teen. Many fine actresses could create a monster, but Mo'nique manages to show us flashes of humanity beneath the surface.

Meryl Streep, Adaptation (2002)

Streep, who is of course one of our greatest actresses, gives one of her top 2 or 3 performances in this movie. She's so simultaneously funny and poignant as a fictionalized version of author Susan Orlean. The scene where she gets stoned is absolutely hilarious.
-Streep was of course almost always amazing this decade. I particularly liked her forays into comedic performances, The Devil Wears Prada (2006), A Prairie Home Companion (2006), and Julie & Julia (2009). Looking back, who knew this master of the accent could be so damned funny.

Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton (2007)

Swinton is a strange and terrific actress, and her performance as Karen Crowder, an opposing lawyer to Clooney's Clayton, is truly unique. She truly digs into the skin of her itchy, corrupt, insecure character and makes her so much more than a typical corporate villain. Major spoiler alert if you watch the clip.
-Swinton also turned in great leading performances this decade in The Deep End (2001) and Julia (2009).

Once again, Oscar did a not bad job with their awards this decade. Four of these women won the award (Blanchett, Cruz, Mo'nique, Swinton), and all except Patricia Clarkson were nominated (and even she got a nomination for Pieces of April).

It's very interesting to see how many of these women switch between supporting and lead roles. Blanchett, Cruz, Streep, Keener, and Adams are all more than able to carry movies on their own, yet have no problems lending their support in great roles.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Toy Story 3 and Inception

Toy Story 3

So on the hottest day of a very hot DC summer, I hauled my butt to an air-conditioned movie theater, put on some 3-D glasses, and treated myself to Pixar's latest triumph.

I'm a huge fan of the Toy Story films. The subject matter, toys who come to life, are just so inherently funny and poignant at the same time. Who hasn't had feelings of guilt about toys you stopped playing with? My only question was, could the Toy Story franchise mine similar themes and still produce a great movie.

Yes, yes, and yes. Toy Story 3 was absolutely terrific. When the toys get sent to a daycare center, there are all kinds of new adventures and toys to add to the fun. The movie has a lot of fun riffing on prison movies during this section. The good thing about Pixar movies, though, is they never (or rarely) let the action sequences get in the way of the emotions and the character development (a lesson they could teach to Incpetion-see review below).

And a word about the ending. I honestly cannot remember the last movie where I cried so much. The ending of this movie is just so perfect and tender and poignant and beautiful. I'm pretty sure just about everyone in the theater was crying as well, except perhaps the children. If you haven't seen Toy Story 3 yet, see it. I'm pretty sure it's my favorite of the year thus far.

Grade: A


For the past several months, as the Incpetion buzz continued to build, I've been trying to avoid reading reviews and watching previews for Inception. I knew the general concept going in, but I left most of the movie surprise me, and I'm glad I did.

Most of you have probably seen it. It's about dreams, and people who go into dreams. Most of the movie takes place in these dreams. Figuring out the layers of dreams, particularly in the last half of the movie, gets to be a whole lot of fun. While there are probably a few aspects I missed, I also wouldn't say it as overly difficult to follow. Director Christopher Nolan came up with a very fun concept for the movie, and he shoots the many many action and dream sequences with much style. The visuals are absolutely astonishing in several moments of the film. I particularly liked the street that became a box in one of the initial dreams.

The area where the movie was lacking for me was in emotion and character development. Most of the emotion has to do with Leonardo DiCaprio's character and his feelings for his wife (Marion Cotillard). These two are both very good actors, and I think Cotillard wins for best acting of the film, but we don't get into their lives very much. And the other main characters, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page? We know next to nothing about them. It seems almost a waste to put two such likable young actors in the movie and not give them more of an emotional range. I would have liked a few more moments where the film slowed down and let the characters' personalities take center stage.

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy this movie. I really really did. It was long, but I was engrossed the whole way. I also do want to see it again to luxuriate in the details that Nolan put in the script. I just don't think it lives up to his best films, Memento (one of my very favorite movies) or The Dark Knight.

Grade: B+

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Best Performances of the "00s": Supporting Actor

Continuing my look back at the oughts, here are my favorite supporting actor performances of the 2000s. I've also managed to find clips for most of these great performances online. If you're reading on Facebook, you may want to go to the blog to see the clips.

In alphabetical order, my favorite supporting actor performances of the decade....

Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men (2007): Prince Valiant hair and all, Bardem's Anton Chigurgh is one of the most memorable characters of the decade. An evil character you can't quite explain.
-Also quite good in a very different role in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Steve Buscemi, Ghost World (2001): As Seymour, a lonely music collector and all-around misfit who connects with a recent high school grad, Buscemi brings depth and humor to his wonderful role in a wonderful movie. It's terrible he didn't receive an Oscar nomination for this movie.

Chris Cooper, Adaptation (2002): Cooper's blue-collar orchid hunter John Laroche is completely hilarious. As you watch Charlie Kaufman's wacked-out movie, it's easy to see how Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) becomes entranced by him. Fuck Fish....

Benicio del Toro, Traffic (2000): As Mexican police officer Javier Rodriguez, del Toro is the standout in a superb cast. He provides heart and soul to this interwoven drug tale.
-Also award-worthy as Jack in 21 Grams (2003)

Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children (2006):
Haley plays convicted child molester Ronnie, who sets off a string of events in the suburban mileau. He mixes just the right amount of creepiness and sympathy.

Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild (2007): Holbrook's Ron Franz, who becomes a surrogate father to Christopher McCandless, provides one of the most heartbreaking scenes of the decade. Unfortunately, I can't find it on YouTube!

Bill Irwin, Rachel Getting Married (2008): As dad Paul, the most sympathetic character of the very dysfunctional family, Irwin is constantly on target. I think it may actually be harder to play a "good" character than a bad one, and Irwin did a great job. I especially love the scene where they have the dish competition.

Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight (2008): Is there really anything else to say about this universally acclaimed performance? Ledger went to a very dark place in this performance and created an entirely iconic character that will live in cinema history. Ledger's death was an extremely sad loss for cinema-lovers.

Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds (2009): While I had some issues with Quentin Tarantino's WW2 fantasia, none of these problems had to do with Waltz's bravura, multi-lingual performance as Nazi Hans Landa. A chilling villain who will also live in cinema history.

Clive Owen, Closer (2004): Julia Roberts and Jude Law were the biggest stars in this rather nasty but highly engaging film, but Clive Owen and Natalie Portman gave the best performances, and won the Oscar nominations. Owen's doctor Larry is oh so mean in love, as are all the characters really.
-Also award-worthy as Robert in Gosford Park (2000)

Oscar did a pretty good job this decade with this category. 5 of these actors actually won supporting actor (Bardem, Ledger, del Toro, Cooper, and Waltz) and all but two (Buscemi and Irwin) were nominated.

I'm also surprised by how few of these actors have really "made it" as lead actors. The only one who managed a lead nomination was Heath Ledger, for Brokeback Mountain.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

In a theater or on a plane....

As my summer break schedule has been very conducive to movie-watching, I've got lots to catch up on. Here's a couple in the theaters, and a few from international plane travel. Coming soon will be quick notes on many that I've seen on video recently!

In the Theater

The Kids Are All Right

This movie definitely aims at genres that I like, family dramas filled with moments of warmth and comedy. The cast could not be any better. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a long-married couple whose lives are turned upside down when their children seek out their sperm donor from long ago (Mark Ruffalo). First and foremost, a word on the acting. Ever since You Can Count on Me, I have loved Mark Ruffalo. I think he is possibly even better in this movie. I can't think of another actor who is as natural and relaxed at portraying a complex character as Ruffalo is. You can't help but be charmed by his gardener/restaurateur character while simultaneously while questioning some of his choices. Annette Bening is better than I have ever seen her portraying the more uptight and controlling partner in the relationship. Her facial expressions and body language tell volumes about how her character is feeling. I'll be very surprised if she doesn't get an Oscar nod for this role. And Julianne Moore can portray just about anything. Here she is the more free-spirited end of the partnership, and her character has to make a major arc in the movie.

The movie is filled with many wonderful scenes that illustrate how all five characters are feeling. Besides the three adults, the movie takes very seriously the feelings of the two teenagers as well. While I had unfortunately seen the preview a few too many times and known some of the direction of the movie, it still managed to surprise me at several moments. I only have one minor quibble with the movie-it's treatment of the Mexican gardener, which feels tone-deaf and borderline racist. Just a quick word about the movie as a "gay movie." This is, first and foremost, a movie about relationships and their problems, and two main characters happen to be a lesbian couple. It's not played for obvious laughs or shock value, it just is, and what a wonderful thing that is. If it has a message it's that families are families, and they're full of both love and problems, no matter their makeup.

Grade: A-

Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize last year, and it's a very worthy and original winner. The movie sort of takes a film noirish mystery and sets it in the backwoods of the Ozarks in Missouri. I absolutely loved the texture of this movie. It never felt like it was preaching about poverty, but you are so entrenched in the day-to-day struggles of these characters, you can't help but be moved. Jennifer Lawrence stars, in a great performance, as Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old who cares for a mentally ill mother, two younger siblings, and whose father is gone, and possibly dead.

The movie mostly concerns Ree's search for her father. If she can't find him, the bond agency will take her house. As she walks the backwoods of the Ozarks, we see that many are making their living from producing and dealing meth, and most people are connected to one another. One thing I loved about this movie is its absence of clear villains. There is one character who you think is terrible who ends up being a caretaker, and others who do terrible things but also play with a certain sense of fairness. Kudos to director Debra Granik who, like Kathryn Bigelow in last year's The Hurt Locker, shows that a female director can create a movie every bit as tough and hardhitting as any male director. See it now.

Grade: A-


I love John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, and Catherine Keener. I also think Jonah Hill can be very funny. So ever since I saw the previews for Cyrus, I was excited to see it. Unfortunately, I don't think the movie lives up to its very talented actors, who all do a great job. It's about John (Reilly), who falls in love with the beautiful and charming Molly (Tomei), who just happens to be still living with, and having an incredibly close relationship with, her odd son (Hill).

The movie starts out very strong, as we gradually begin to figure out the nuances of each of the characters. After that, the audience anxiously awaits for more hilarity and hijinks to ensue. Unfortunately, they really don't. The movie sort of meanders with along with the similar scenes. I'm not usually one to pull for mainstream movie making, but in this case Cyrus could actually use a little more over-the-top humor. The Duplass brothers, who directed a few "mumblecore" movies before this, seem almost determined to not push this funny situation too far. Not a bad movie, but nothing I really want to see again.

Grade: C+

On a plane.....

On my recent international flights to and from Peru, I was treated to my first time with a personal TV screen with several choices of movies..... Even on my overnight flight back, I managed to fit in two movies. I was inspired by my good friend (and frequent international traveller) Erik, who always makes the most of his plane trips. Here were my choices, for better or worse.....

A Single Man (2009)

Colin Firth is absolutely stunning as George, a gay British professor living in 1960s Los Angeles who is mourning the loss of his partner and contemplating suicide. The movie basically runs through a tough day in his life, including his visit to his good friend and former lover Charley (the always stunning Julianne Moore). The movie is beautifully shot, beautifully acted, and filled with gorgeous music. It has obviously been made with great care by first-time director (and noted fashion designer) Tom Ford. While I enjoyed the movie, it felt a little too focused on physical beauty, to the point where it seemed to snuff out some real emotion. Perhaps that's what you get with a fashion designer director. I also had some issues with the ending, which I don't want to discuss as it is a major spoiler. Nevertheless, everyone should definitely see this for Firth's awesome performance.

Grade: B

It's Complicated (2009)

So I'd never see this movie in a theater, or probably even get it from Netflix. But it seemed like a good pick to pass a couple hours on a plane. And in many ways it was. Meryl Streep is terrific, as always, as a character torn between a rekindled affair with her somewhat slimy ex-husband (Alec Baldwin), and a sweet romance with a nerdy architect (Steve Martin). For the first hour or so, this movie moved quickly and was actually very enjoyable. And, I have to say, it's a huge improvement for director Nancy Myers over the terrible Something's Gotta Give. My biggest problem with this movie is that it kept going. Really, we do not need more than 2 hours to tell such a simple story. As a rule, I think comedies are best when they stick pretty close to the 90 minute mark. Still, I'd have to say this was a tad better than I expected.

Grade: C+

Date Night (2010)

Watching this movie reminded me of why I avoid movies when people say things like, "It wasn't that great, but it was a lot of fun ." (Or, worse yet, "cute"). I love Steve Carell and Tina Fey. 30 Rock is easily my favorite comedy on TV right now. How in God's name can Tina Fey be made so unfunny?? This movie was absolutely terrible. The concept is halfway OK in principal (suburban couple gets mistaken for someone else and has to evade some criminals), but it just gets more and more stupid as the movie progresses. It's like someone took a discarded script from 1983 and decided to put two big stars in it. Carell had a few funny moments, but absolutely nothing Tina Fey did was funny. Bring me back Liz Lemon!

Grade: D

The Young Victoria (2009)

Emily Blunt was lovely and wonderful in this opulent costume drama as the title character, and the love story between her and Prince Albert was very nicely portrayed. I always enjoy tales of royal intrigue, even if the intrigue in this story wasn't particularly earth-shattering. Nevertheless, this movie was a lot of fun to watch. I don't think it will stick with me for a long time, but I really enjoyed watching it.

Grade: B

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Top 50 of the "00s" Wrap-Up

Top 50 Recap

So here's a full recap of my favorite 50 movies of the "00s." Immediately, a few stats about my list...

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2. Mulholland Drive
3. Far From Heaven
4. Talk to Her
5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
6. Lost in Translation
7. Rachel Getting Married
8. Memento
9. Junebug
10. No Country for Old Men
11. Y Tu Mama Tambien
12. You Can Count on Me
13. Before Sunset
14. Gosford Park
15. A Serious Man
16. The Hurt Locker
17. Into the Wild
18. Wall-E
19. The White Ribbon
20. Up in the Air
21. Capote
22. Requiem for a Dream
23. Traffic
24. About Schmidt
25. The Lives of Others
26. The Class
27. Cache
28. Ghost World
29. City of God
30. Atonement
31. The Departed
32. Milk
33. Wonder Boys
34. American Splendor
35. Best in Show
36. Mystic River
37. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
38. Monsoon Wedding
39. 25th Hour
40. Once
41. Little Children
42. Pan's Labryinth
43. Ratatouille
44. The Royal Tenenbaums
45. Goodbye Solo
46. Little Miss Sunshine
47. In the Bedroom
48. The Constant Gardener
49. Wendy and Lucy
50. Crash

Here's where my list broke down my year:
6 Movies- 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007
5 Movies-2005, 2006, 2008, 2009
4 Movies-2003
2 Movies-2004

So, overall, it looks like the beginning of the decade was strongest, then a couple weaker years, then some pretty good years to end out the decade. Sounds about right as I look back on the decade.

By Language/Country:
Mostly "American" Movies: 35
Mostly British Movies: 4
Foreign Language Movies:11

I judged this fairly arbitrarily. Not by director, but by most of the actors and the general feel of the movie. For example, Altman is most certainly an American director but Gosford Park takes place in England and contains almost all British actors. This decade is really the first when I've seen a wide range of foreign films, and there have been some great ones. I'm almost surprised they didn't account for more than 11 on my list.

Directors who show up twice on the list:
The Coen Brothers- No Country for Old Men and A Serious Man
Michael Haneke- The White Ribbon and Cache
Fernando Meirelles- City of God and The Constant Gardener
Todd Field- Little Children and In the Bedroom

I was quite surprised that these were the only 4 who showed up more than once on my list. Todd Field is especially impressive. He's only made 2 films and they're both on my list. Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Ang Lee, and Pedro Almodovar all had strong decades, but they each only had 1 movie that cracked my top 50.

Actors who show up more than once:
Bob Balaban- Best in Show, Capote, Ghost World, Gosford Park
Don Cheadle- Crash, Traffic
Jennifer Connelly- Little Children, Requiem for a Dream
Hope Davis- About Schmidt, American Splendor,
Michael Douglas- Traffic, Wonder Boys
Vera Farmiga- The Departed, Up in the Air
Philip Seymour Hoffman- 25th Hour, Capote
Scarlett Johansson- Ghost World, Lost in Translation
Catherine Keener- Capote, Into the Wild
Laura Linney- Mystic River, You Can Count on Me
Kelly MacDonald- Gosford Park, No Country for Old Men
Bill Murray- Lost in Translation, The Royal Tenenbaums
Jack Nicholson- About Schmidt, The Departed
Sean Penn- Milk, Mystic River
Mark Ruffalo- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, You Can Count on Me
Tom Wilkinson- In the Bedroom, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Kate Winslet- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Little Children

Who would have guessed that Bob Balaban would be my most honored actor? I certainly wouldn't have as he is not the star of any of his four movies. A dog therapist in Best in Show, a New Yorker editor in Capote, a befuddled father in Ghost World, and an American movie producer in Gosford Park. All small roles played with great strength. I guess it shows you what a hardworking character actor can do. Wait to go, Bob. If you don't recognize the name, I bet you recognize the face from Christopher Guest movies and many many other roles.

I'm probably missing a few. I was surprised by both who did and didn't show up on the list. I guess some of my favorite actors-Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington- give excellent performances without showing up in my very favorites. I was also impressed by the strengths of the casts of Eternal Sunshine and Mystic River. Both movies had 3 actors who showed up on my list.

Coming Up Next: Top performances of the "00s", along with an overview of Oscar's choices.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Favorites of the "00s": 1-10

After all my favorites, here are my top 10 of the decade. The movies that I love, adore, worship, could watch over and over again. I saw each of these movies in the theater, and I can still feel the thrill I felt watching each one of them. My list includes a few which have shown up on endless end of the decade lists, and (I hope) a few surprises as well. I make no apologies for my love of these movies.... In case you missed it, here are previous installments:

Without further ado.....

10. No Country for Old Men (2007): While not without its flashes of humor, this is perhaps the least jokey movie of the Coen Brothers canon. A tense-as-hell thriller that also happens to be about the nature of evil. Javier Bardem, as Anton Chigurh, creates one of cinema's greatest villains.

9. Junebug (2005): This movie is perhaps remembered for Amy Adams' outstanding breakout performance, which earned her an Oscar nomination, but that's only the beginning of its charms. A hilarious and touching portrait of a disconnected family in rural North Carolina and what happens when a wandering son and his new British wife visit. A beautiful film that perfectly captures family dynamics.

8. Memento (2001): Ingeniously plotted and directed by Christopher Nolan, it's about a man (Guy Pearce) with a disease where he can't remember more than a few minutes. All he knows is he is trying to find his wife's killer. Oh yeah, and the movie starts at the end and moves to the beginning. It may sound like a gimmick, but it works perfectly and gains in emotional power as the movie progresses.

7. Rachel Getting Married (2008): Another great movie about a broken family and what happens when one returns. Anne Hathaway plays Kym, a recovering addict who returns for her sisters' boisterous and extravagant wedding. Director Jonathan Demme used a semi-documentary style to film this movie, and you constantly feel as if you're in on the action. This is one that I've found elicits either a "Love It" or "OK, but don't see what the big deal is" response. I fell in unconditional love, and I hope you do too.

6. Lost in Translation (2003): Director Sofia Coppola perfectly captures the feeling of being lost in a foreign land, and in your own skin. There are really three main actors in this movies: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johannson, and Tokyo. They each perform their roles perfectly, and this movie includes one of the greatest ambiguous endings of all time.

5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000): Director Ang Lee created pure movie magic with this Chinese fantasy where his actors and actresses guide through the treetops. Two great love stories and the most innovative action sequences of the decade.

4. Talk to Her (2002): I liked this movie when I first saw it, and on subsequent viewings its turned into one of my all-time favorites. I love director Pedro Almodovar, and I think this is his masterpiece. It's about many things, including bullfighting, ballet dancing, the meaning of love, the meaning of friendship, and fate.

3. Far From Heaven (2002): Director Todd Haynes recreates both the style and content of a 1950s-era weepie, but he adds a modern day subtext. The craft of this film is simply astonishing, and the performances could not be any better. I can't think of another film that simultaneously causes you to think so much about its craft while being completely moved by the story. Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, and Patricia Clarkson are all masterful.

2. Mulholland Drive (2001): David Lynch's weird/sexy/scary/sad dream of a movie demands repeated viewings. The great thing about this movie is that, as bizarre as it is, it's entirely possible to come up with a coherent emotional explanation for everything that occurs. Naomi Watts gives what I think is the female performance of the decade in a role that requires an enormous range. Absolutely stunning.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): Charlie Kauffman wrote one of my favorite movies of the 90s (Being John Malkovich), and I think this is even better.I doubt that I've seen any other movie this decade as much as this one. A perfectly written, directed, and acted movie, and I'm sure most readers have seen it. Could Kate Winslet be any better as Clementine? As Jim Carrey ever given a better performance? Have you ever watched it and not thought about what you would use "Lacuna, Inc" for in your own life?

What do these movies all have in common? In my mind, they are all extremely close to flawless moviemaking. Looking at these movies, it's hard to pick out anything I would have changed. Several of my movies showed up on many critics end of the year lists- Eternal Sunshine, Mulholland Drive, Crouching Tiger, No Country. A few others-particularly Junebug and Rachel Getting Married-are more personal favorites. What do you think readers? Do you have a person 10 best?

Coming up soon in a future post: A recap and stats for my decade list.