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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Recent Screenings

I've been woefully absent from the blog lately, but have definitely seen some interesting movies of 2012.  Here are some (very) quick thoughts on what I've been catching up with.

The Master

It may be the best movie I've seen so far this year, but you may (depending on your tolerance for ambiguity) also hate it.  A movie that compels and repels at the same time, giving us hypnotic images and gorgeous cinematography in the service of some alienating characters.  Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman give brilliant performances in Paul Thomas Anderson's epic that plumbs the depth of a damaged psyche and his relationship with a cult leader.  What Anderson is saying about American society I am still deciphering and debating, but it has definitely stuck with me.

Grade: A-


A wonderfully paced, completely engaging, nailbitingly tense look at one small aspect of the Iranian hostage crisis.  The two hours zip by, and Ben Affleck (who made the very good crime films Gone Baby Gone and The Town) takes a step up in ambition and scope.  A really good movie-my only qualm is its overdramitization in some of its final moments.  I fully expect this to be a major Oscar player.

Grade: A-


A time-travel movie that manages to be wholly original in the service of an action-packed and thought-provoking story.  All three lead actors (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt) are great, and it ends with quite an original twist.  I could have done with a bit more nerdy time-travel stuff and less action, but perhaps that's just me.

Grade: B/B+

The Dark Knight Rises

Does a lot of what Nolan's Batman movies have done best-great action pieces, good backstory, and a compelling cast.  I also loved Anne Hathaway, who brought a sense of fun to her role as Selina Kyle (AKA Catwoman).  At times, though, I wish Nolan would give in a bit more to the playfulness of superhero movies instead of making everything so crushingly dark and self-serious.  It also has a lead villain (Bane) who suffers quite a bit in the charisma department.  Certainly not as strong as The Dark Knight, but a worthy end to the trilogy.

Grade: B

The Bourne Legacy

Matt Damon's gone, but Jeremy Renner does a great job of taking over and adding another chapter of the tense, brainy (for action films), and fast-paced Bourne movies.  Rachel Weisz is also great as Renner's partner in fleeing from nefarious agents.  I saw this a couple of months ago and honestly don't remember all the ins and outs of the plot, but it was a lot of fun to watch.

Grade: B

The Sessions

This Sundance-hit is about a disabled man in an iron lung (John Hawkes) who sets out to experience sex for the first time with a "sex surrogate" (Helen Hunt).  Despite the topic, the movie actually manages to be quite sweet and almost tasteful.  It also goes about every place you would expect it to, and doesn't give many surprises.  I enjoyed it, but kept wishing these two great performances were in a movie that was a little tougher or more complex.  You'll definitely see both Hawkes' and Hunt's names on Oscar nomination morning.

Grade: B/B-

Safety Not Guaranteed

Like Looper, also about time travel... and that's where the similarities end.  An indie comedy that doesn't push the quirkiness too far.  Modest to the extreme, but fun to watch and I really liked Aubrey Plaza (April from Parks and Recreation) in her deadpan role that allowed her flashes of heart.

Grade: B-

The Avengers

The megahit of the summer has a great cast having lots of fun with their roles.  My favorites were Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk.  I liked it and its sense of fun, but like many action movies, I eventually got tired of the chase scenes.

Grade: B-

The Campaign

Saw this when I did a summer double screening.  Definitely some funny bits, but it felt too long even at less than 90 minutes.  Zach Galifanikis actually outdoes Will Ferrel in funny moments.  Worth a look on DVD if you are fans of the actors.

Grade: C+

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Vertigo: Watching Sight and Sound's Greatest Films

Every 10 years, since 1952, the British film magazine Sight and Sound polls critics and directors on the "Greatest Films" ever made.    For cinema fanatics (and list fanatics) such as myself, it's a major event.  My wife Emily and I are planning on watching the top 10, 1 by 1, and having a conversation about them here on the blog.  We'll start with #1, Vertigo, and move on down the list.

1. Vertigo (Hitchcock)
2. Citizen Kane (Welles)
3. Tokyo Story (Ozu)
4. The Rules of the Game (Renoir)
5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Murnau)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick)
7. The Searchers (Ford)
8. Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer)
10. 8 1/2 (Fellini)

We hope you enjoy!



 is only the third film to hold the top spot on the list. 
Bicycle Thieves held it in 1952 and Citizen Kane had a long run on the 
top spot. from 1962-2002. Vertigo first appeared on the list in 1982
 at #7, moved to #4 in 1992, and to #2 by 2002.  It was a bit of a
 shock to see Citizen Kane off the top, but I guess this was probably 
the least surprising film to topple Kane.

 Vertigo is a film by one of just about everyone's favorite directors,
 Alfred Hitchcock, and is his only film to ever make the top 10 list. 
It came out in 1958 and was considered something of a box office
failure. It starts James Stewart as a man hired to follow another
 man's wife (Kim Novak), who seems to be entranced by a dead woman.  To
say much more would ruin the many pleasures of discovery in the movie.
 I hadn't seen this movie in probably 15 years, and it was quite an
 amazing experience to watch it again.  The themes in this movie seem
 so modern, and so influential, that its hard to believe what Hitchcock
 could do in 1958.


Emily, I guess I'll ask you a few questions to get us started:

-Why do you think critics are gaga for this film?

-What was your favorite shot or sequence in the film?

-Is Scottie (played by the usually lovable James Stewart) one of the
 most twisted protagonists in film history?


This was my first time seeing Vertigo, and I have to say it was pretty entrancing. The twists, turns, eeriness, darkness, and obsessiveness -all juxtaposed with the striking backdrop of sunny San Francisco -really drew me in, and probably the critics too. It's interesting to know this was originally considered only a marginal success, given how well it's known today.

My favorite sequences were the really spooky moments. Can I say two? The first was when Scottie and Madeleine are in Muir Woods, looking at the tree rings on the redwoods. Madeleine flips into Carlota mode, showing Scottie when she was born and... when she died. Chilling. And kudos to Hitchcock for taking advantage of this gorgeous setting. The
second is when the remade-as-Madeline Judy emerges from the bathroom in a haze, in her pulled back blonde hair and gray suit. The way it's shot gives it this great ghostly feel.

While I am definitely no film historian, so can't say whether Scottie is the most twisted character in film history, I'd have to think he's probably right up there! It's like being obsessed with the past and dead women is contagious - first in the case of Madeleine, then in the
case of Scottie. And it leads him to say and do some pretty bizarre things.

So let me ask you:

-Why the change in momentum in this film's critical acclaim?
-What directorial elements did you appreciate most?


Ah, yes.   I also appreciate the spooky moments, and I also love how they're also infused with romanticism.  I especially love a couple scenes.  First, where Scottie follows Madeline down a downtown alley and spies on her as she browses a dazzling array of flowers.  So
beautiful and heady.  I also love the 360 degree camera angle when they embrace and it switches between their current locale and the mission.

The change in criticism came for a couple of reasons.  I think the themes of this movie were a little disturbing for early audiences, who didn't flock to this movie as much as his "fun" movies like Rear Window or North by Northwest.

Also, during most of his career, Hitchcock was considered talented and popular, but also somewhat of a genre filmmaker.  It took some of the European critics to elevate him to his much deserved masterful status. What they loved about him was his command of the craft and psychological undertones, and this movie fits this to a T.  As a side note, it only shows how great he is that Vertigo is probably my 3rd or 4th favorite movie of his.  I love Rear Window and Psycho even more.

What directorial choices did I like most?  I love the technicolor and the amazing score by Bernard Hermann.  I also love how much he uses visuals to tell the story.  We'll be getting to some silent films later in our viewings, but I think he really took a lot of visual storytelling from past films into Vertigo.  There are several sequences where words don't happen for quite a while and we are simply transfixed by the score, the visuals, and Kim Novak's hair twist....
It just makes me want to watch the whole thing again.

I also love how it influenced one of my other favorite movies, David Lynch's Mulholland Drive.  The mystery, the doubles, the changing of style, and the twisted romanticism.  It's all there so beautifully in both films.

Any closing thoughts?


Yeah, it definitely makes me want to watch Mulholland Drive again (another great movie!), and take notice of the influences. Another blog conversation for another time?

A couple final thoughts. First, I wanted to mention was that there were several points where I thought Scottie's misogyny and the general portrayal of women was kind of over the top, and wasn't sure if this was a product of the time or Hitchcock's own views. But then some of the unpredictable turns in the storyline end up adding complexity to the question of who holds the power. What's your feminist critique?

Then finally, I would just want to add for those who have never seen Vertigo before, go put it in your queue! It was truly a riveting watch, and a film I'd highly recommend seeing.


Yes, the misogyny was over the top, but I think the movie is fully aware of that.  Scottie's obsession with recreating a certain type of woman is creepy and crazy.  I also think the most accessible and sympathetic character in the movie is Scottie's friend (and admirer) Midge, played by Barbara Bel Geddes.  She definitely seems like a modern, independent woman.  And yet, Hitchcock definitely had a thing for cool, icy, blondes, and put them through all sorts of travails in his movies.  I think a reason critics obsess over this movie so much is the psychological underpinnings that give us a peek into Hitchock's own psyche.

So yes, go see it!

Next Up (Probably in October): Just a little movie called Citizen Kane!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Movies of 2012 (So Far)

Since it's been a bit since I've blogged, I thought I'd start by catching up on the 2012 releases I've seen so far.  There are definitely some movies well-worth catching, several of which feature great performances by young actors.  So, in order of preference....

The Kid With a Bike

I'm a huge fan of the Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.  In all their movies, such as L'Enfant (The Child) and La Promesse, they present real moral quandaries in the context of working-class European settings far removed from the stops of tourists.  The Kid With a Bike is about Cyril, a 12-year-old living in a state run facility after his dad abandons him.  While searching for his father (and his beloved bike), he meets Samantha, a neighbor who he befriends and ends up staying with on the weekends.  What follows is a beautiful journey of falls and redemptions.  Young Thomas Doret is astonishing in one of the best child performances I've seen, and Cecile de France matches him as an ordinary woman with a remarkable soul.

Grade: A-

Take This Waltz

A movie that I've thought about just about every day in the last two weeks since I've seen it.  It's about Margot (Michelle Williams), a young Canadian woman married to Lou (Seth Rogen) who begins an intense and confusing flirtation with her neighbor Daniel (Luke Kirby).  To tell anymore of the plot would ruin much of the movie's depth.  The director is the young Sarah Polley, who also directed the excellent Alzheimers-drama Away From Her.  In Take This Waltz, she plumbs the emotions of thirtyish characters to make them just as searing.  This certainly isn't a movie for everyone.  Characters will make decisions you hate and it leaves the viewer with no easy answers.  It's also unfortunately marred by a few too many nail on the head dialogue moments.  The cast is excellent, particularly Michelle Williams in another remarkable performance. She's easily one of the best actresses currently working.  When you've seen it, I'd love to discuss!

Grade: A-

Rickshaw Ride

Take This Waltz


Moonrise Kingdom

Director Wes Anderson and I have had a complicated relationship.  I fell in love with his distinctive style and emotions in Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums.  I was then intensely annoyed with the 100-steps-too-cute The Life Acquatic with Steve Zissou and left cold (or at least tepid) by The Darjeeling Limited.  So, I went into Moonrise Kingdom with trepidation as it looked like it might be too cute by half.  I was pleasantly surprised by how funny, well acted, and consistently delightful it was.  Yes, it includes all of Anderson's trademark quirks, but here they served the story quite well.  It's almost a Romeo and Juliet story as two young teens, an orphan and a girl stuck in an unhappy family make their way into the New England wilderness.  There are jokes a plenty but also some real emotion.  It's easily the best he's been since The Royal Tenenbaums.

Grade: B+ (or maybe A-)

Beasts of the Southern Wild

With a first-time director, an amazing lead performance by a then 6-year-old, and a visual style all its own, Beasts of the Southern Wild was a Sundance hit and probably the buzziest independent film of the summer.  It's a movie I don't want to say too much about.  Think Huck Finn, connections to Hurricane Katrina, and a large dose of magical realism.  It's vibrant, colorful, loud, action packed, and undeniably emotional.  I expect it will keep building audiences and become an indie hit and will probably play in the Oscar race.  And yet, something about it didn't feel quite right to me.  As much love and care went into crafting the community in the film, I think it carries  a whiff of sentimental condescension towards its characters and sometimes flirts with the "noble savage" archetype.  It's a tribute to the amazing, the young Quevenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry, that they are able to create such indelible characters as to make the audience look past this.  So, while I'm only giving it a B, it's definitely a movie you should see and you very well might love.

Grade: B

And, some very quick thoughts.....

The Grey

A survival drama starring Liam Neeson.  It's about men in a plane crash who have to survive Alaska and a pack of wolves.  Spare, tense, and some great Alaska scenery.   Gets a little redundant, but also well made.

Grade: B-

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

I saw this movie only a couple weeks ago, and I pretty much already forgot it.  Really innocuous and inconsequential, although I do really like Jason Segal.

Grade: C

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Top 10 of 2011

Although we're several months into 2012, I've continued to catch up with prominent movies from 2012.  At last count, I've seen 46  movies from 2011.  While I started out feeling it was a more lackluster year, I actually had a hard time making some of my choices and think I have a pretty solid list.  Some movies on my list are crowd-pleasers, while others are highly divisive.  Here are the movies from 2011 that most moved me, made me laugh, made me cry, and made me think.

Runners-Up (Or, I wish I had room):

Bridesmaids:   Amazing comic performances from the hilarious women and easily the most laughs from any movie this year.  If it hadn't gone on quite so long and added on a subplot or two too many, it easily would have made my top 10.

Higher Ground: The great Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, The Departed) directs and stas in this film about a woman finding and questioning her faith.  It's the rare modern film that treats faith and doubt seriously.

Hugo: Martin Scorsese makes a charming film for the whole family light-years away from his usually gangsters and violence.  While I definitely thought some sections were weaker than others, the last third, a celebration of filmmaking, is simply stunning.

Midnight in Paris: A lovely and charming movie from Woody Allen.  I recently had the trip of a lifetime to Paris, so I certainly buy the nostalgia.

Poetry: A quiet and haunting South Korean movie about a woman with Alzheimer's finding joy in a poetry class and dealing with her grandson who is in trouble with the law.

Without further ado.......

10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Sure its confusing, but compellingly so.  Director Thomas Alfredson gets the tweedy atmosphere of 1970s England so right in movie about an intelligence officer finding a mole.  Gary Oldman commands a great cast, and I can't wait to see it again (and understand it more this time).

9. Young Adult: My vote for the most underrated movie of the year.  This movie is in turns completely hilarious and utterly painful to watch.  Writer Diablo Cody, director Jason Reitman, and star Charlize Theron  refuse to pull any punches in their caustic portrayal of a self-deluding woman returning to her small-town life.


Young Adult


8. Drive: The year's coolest movie.  I absolutely loved the first half of this movie, as we were introduced to Ryan Gosling's mysterious (and nameless) character who is a stunt-movie driver by day, hired driver for crooks at night.  While I think the movie revels in the violence of its second half a bit too much, the movie is filled to the brim with filmmaking bravado.

A Ride with Irene



7. The Artist: This Best Picture winner is pure entertainment.  Jean DuJardin and Berenice Bejo fit right into the silent-film world and the movie is filled with humor and pathos.

Accidental Photo-Op

The Artist


6. Shame: Director Steve McQueen (different from the actor) is a masterful director.  This movie is probably best-known for its graphic sexuality.  It does have that, and yet its never feels sensationalistic.  All the elements comes together to tell a compelling and disturbing story of addiction and emotional alienation. Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan give two of the best performances of the year.

The Subway



5. The Interrupters:  It's about former gang members who now intervene to help settle violent street feuds in Chicago.  Watching these brave men and women (especially the astounding Ameena) give back to their communities will make you a better person.  The same directors made the brilliant Hoop Dreams in 1994, and once again the Academy ignored the Best Documentary of the year.

4. Martha Marcy May Marlene: Debut writer/director Sean Durkin made a masterful movie with a great debut performance by Elizabeth Olsen (yes, the sister of the Olsen twins).  The movie sucks you in with its mixture of dread of and mystery that will haunt you for a long time to come.  I loved the great ambiguous ending.


Martha Marcy May Marlene


3. Moneyball: Moneyball is just about perfectly made.  Moving but never sentimental, funny but never trying too hard, and so realistic every moment feels true.  It's a story of statistics, reinvention, and redemption in the baseball stadium.  Writer Aaron Sorkin follows up The Social Network script with more pitch-perfect dialogue, and its delivered by a great cast headed by Brad Pitt.

My Biggest Fear



2. A Separation: This Iranian movie is so many things at once: a portrait of a marriage, a legal thriller, a mystery, a study of the secular/religious divide, and a probing search into modern Iran.  Most prominently, though, its about human beings with all their complicated emotions.  It blew me away.  See it now.

1. The Tree of Life: I'm quite aware that some people couldn't stand this movie.  Terrence Malick's drama is mostly about a boy growing up in Texas, but it also includes the beginnings of the universe, dinosaurs, the afterlife, and lots of whispered voiceover.  For me, it all worked beautifully.  Watching this movie in the theater, I was transported to a place where I was so engrossed in Malick's cosmic vision, I never once thought about the time.  As a bonus, it's easily one of the most beautifully shot movies of all time.  A divisive masterpiece, and my favorite of the year.

Dad's Gone

The Tree of Life


So there it is, another year in film and lots of movies to see.  What were your favorites of 2011?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Best Performances of 2011: Best Actor and Best Actress

As 2012 chugs along, I'm still getting caught up with my 2011 year-in-review.  On the bright side, most of the movies I mention can now be found on DVD!

Here are my favorite lead performances of the year.

Best Actor

Jean DuJardin, The Artist
This Oscar-winning performance is a lesson in pure charm.  This movie would have flopped without a dynamic and engaging leading man.  As George Valentin, DuJardin hits it out of the park and more.  He effortlessly blends the comedy and pathos of the story and, in a silent performance, says more than most other actors say in dozens of movies put together.

The Breakfast Table

The Artist


Michael Fassbender, Shame
If you've heard of this performance, its probably for its notorious nudity.  What's really remarkable about Fassbender's performance as sex-addict Brandon, though, is how Fassbender can make a character with such repellent behavior so endlessly fascinating and even sympathetic.  Shame is a movie that focuses on present behavior, rather than backstory.  Fassbender digs so deep into his character, the viewer can't help but wonder and puzzle over the origins of his character's actions.  With other very strong 2011 performances in Jane Eyre and A Dangerous Method, Fassbender is one of the most dynamic modern actors.

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
I was so glad (and frankly surprised) when Oldman received an Oscar nomination.  This quiet and inward performance of a British intelligence officer is the type of role that so often gets overlooked.  Like Fassbender, so much of Oldman's backstory and motivations are left to the viewer to decipher.  When I finished Tinker Tailor, I immediately wanted to watch it again, partly to decipher the plot and partly to just watch Oldman make great acting look so easy.

Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Speaking of actors who make it look easy, here's the superstar Brad Pitt playing down-to-earth baseball manager Billy Beane.  It's rare that a major star can disappear into his character so easily, but I always felt I was watching Billy rather than Brad.  A little abrasive, a little scarred, and with a lot of love for the game, Billy Beane is a great character destined to be remembered for a long time to come.

Polite Negotiations



Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Michael Shannon received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination in 2008 for stealing all his scenes as a schizophrenic visitor in Revolutionary Road.  Now here he is in Take Shelter playing....what is arguably a schizophrenic man. This time the movie belongs to him, and he does such a great job of showing us the slow  descent and obsession of mental illness.  One of the best portrayals of breakdown I've seen.

My pick: Michael Fassbender
Runner-Up: Brad Pitt

Matches with Oscar: 3/5.  Oscar did pretty well rewarding Pitt, DuJardin, and Oldman.  While I thought both George Clooney (The Descendants) and Demian Bechir (A Better Life) were quite good in movies I didn't love, the snub of Fassbender in particular really hurts.

Best Actress

Viola Davis, The Help
I recently rewatched The Help on a plane, and Viola Davis blew me away even more the second time.  Despite the flaws of the movie, I was reduced to a blubbery mess once again by the strength and depth of Aibileen as portrayed by Davis.  Simply by fully embodying this brave woman, body and soul, Davis commands the screen every time she is in the stage.  Her Oscar loss to Meryl Streep is nothing short of egregious.

They Killed My Son

The Help


Yoon Joong-Hee, Poetry
Poetry is a South Korean drama about a woman coping with Alzhimer's who takes a poetry class and is also dealing with the reprecussions of acts by her grandson.  Joong-Hee takes us through the stages of grief, renewal, and redemption and shows the remarkable grace that can come even in (or maybe especially in) the last years of a life.

Trailer #1



Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Surprised to see a sister of the infamous Olsen twins on my list?  I was surprised to see her maturity, depth, and incredible screen presence. MMMM flashes between Martha's time in an abusive cult and her attempt to put it behind her as she spends time with her sister and brother-in-law.  Olsen has a voice and a face to remember, and I can't wait to see what she does next.

Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Mavis Gary, a YA-fiction writer who returns to her small town, is one of the most pathetic and self-deluding characters to grace the screen in quite a while.  Theron goes all out in portraying her, never taking the easy route of showing a softer side.  In the end, its Theron's air of self-delusion that makes the movie so intriguingly disturbing.

Kristen Wigg, Bridesmaids
Because she was freaking hilarious and part of many of the best scenes of the year.  The most awkward party toast ever..... trying to hold in food at the bridal fitting...... tranquilizers on the plane.  Unlike Mavis Gary, this is a pathetic character with the inner strength to do something else.  It's both hilarious and occasionally moving to see her stumble through her big moments.  A great comedian and the main reason Bridesmaids was a smash hit.

Awkward Introductions



My Favorite: Viola Davis
Runner-Up: Charlize Theron

Matches with Oscar: Oscar and I only overlapped with Viola.  I missed Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs.  I thought Michelle Williams was good in My Week With Marilyn, but she's definitely been better.  Rooney Mara was great in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and easily on my runner-up list. As for Meryl, one of my favorite actresses..... I hate to say it but The Iron Lady is one of her weaker performances, more mimicry than artistry.

Coming Soon...... My Favorite Movies of 2011

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Hunger Games (Are the Odds Ever In Its Favor?)

I'm a bit late to the reviewing party, but I'm here with my Hunger Games review.  For those of you who have avoided the hype, The Hunger Games is based on the immensely addicting young adult books by Suzanne Collins. The movie (much like Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings) will play slightly differently to two audiences: those who have devoured the books and those who are coming fresh to the movie.  I'm definitely in the first camp, and I was pretty impressed.

Let's start with Katniss Everdeen, because if the movie biffed that one there's no way the movie would work.  Thankfully, Jennifer Lawrence is a slam-dunk.  Much like her Winter's Bone character Ree Dolly, Katniss is an Appalachian girl with a missing/dead father, a catatonic mother, and vulnerable siblings who has to hunt squirrels.  I'm sure the filmmakers saw Lawrence's great 2010 performance and couldn't resist casting her as Katniss.  She brings exactly the right amount of doubt, tough-girl grit, and vulnerability to the movie.  It's also really great to have a blockbuster movie so clearly tied to a female protagonist who more than holds her own against fierce male competitors.

The movie is fairly long but highly engaging the whole way through.  I thought the set-up was especially good.  The costumes, set direction, and cinematography all do a great job of portraying both the impoverished District 12 and the decadent Capital.  The rest of the casting is also spot-on, especially Stanley Tucci as talk show host Caesar Flickman.

A pet peeve of mine is viewers who whine about how a movie differs from a book.  Movies inherently can't tell entire stories the way books can and need to be evaluated separately.  Nevertheless...... it's hard to deny that the actually game part of the movie (with 24 competitors fighting to their death) is easier to follow and more tense in the book than in the movie. It's just impossible to be as comprehensive in all the ins and outs of the competition as it was in the book.

Overall, though, The Hunger Games is highly entertaining, a worthy blockbuster and the start of what I'm sure will be a highly lucrative and engaging trilogy.

Grade: B+

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Best Performances of 2011: Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress

Now that I've caught up with a good chunk of the notable 2011 movies, I'm ready to reveal for my favorite performances of the year.  I'll start with the supporting categories.

Best Supporting Actor

John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Hawkes was on my list last year for his multi-faceted performances in Winter's Bone.  He's really good at playing creepy father figures, and here he gradually unveils the terrifying center of his egomaniacal cult leader.  He's so terrifying you can't look away.

Shahab Hosseini, A Separation
In this brilliant Iranian film (which won Best Foreign Film), Hosseini plays what is, on paper, the least sympathetic of the major characters, a man tied to his anger and his religious fundamentalism.  His performance is so good because he shows the desperation and pain underneath all of his characters' actions.

Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life
With The Tree of Life and Moneyball, what a year Brad Pitt had.  Here Pitt plays a father trying to do the best for his family, yet stuck in the trappings of 1950s social norms.  Pitt has to both represent a worldview (authoritarian, strict, undbending) and a believable human being we can sympathesize with.  He odes both with aplomb.

Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Plummer became the oldest acting Oscar winner ever in his absolutely delightful and moving performance as Hal, a father who comes out as gay just as his life is ending.  With humor, sly intelligence, and a deep sense of honesty, Plummer gives the performance of his career.

Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen's movie was filled with actors playing famous folks, and almost all of them were delightful.  None were as thrilling and hilarious as Stoll's Ernest Hemingway.  He perfectly captures the macho cadences and self-seriousness of the famous writer.  I can't wait to see what Stoll will do next.

My pick: Brad Pitt
Runner-Up: Christopher Plummer

Matches with Oscar: Just 1 (Christopher Plummer).  I enjoyed both Jonah Hill (Moneyball) and Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn), but didn't find them particularly Oscar-worthy.  Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) was solid in a limited role, and I didn't see Nick Nolte in Warrior.

Best Supporting Actress

Sarah Bayet, A Separation
As a fundamentalist woman caught in an incredibly complex situation, Bayet makes her character believable and relatable to all viewers.  The movie is filled with her moral quandries, and she does an incredible amount just with her face and body.

Berenice Bejo, The Artist
This immensely enjoyable movie would not work without a true charmer in the role of Peppy Miller, the ingenue who becomes the star.  Bejo has star quality written all over her, and she easily takes on the silent-actor persona as her own.

Jessica Chastain, The Help
When making this list, I really deliberated  over which Chastain performance to put in.  It has truly been her breakout year.  She was sympathetic and complex in Take Shelter and a perfect earth mother character in The Tree of Life.  I finally picked The Help because, along with Viola Davis, Chastain shines brightest amongst an all-star cast and adds depth and complexity to the role of Celia Foote.  She knows exactly when to hit the comedy and when to hit the drama.  I am tremendously excited to see Chastain's future in movies.

Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
It's pretty rare that comedic performances make it to Oscar nomination morning, yet even the stuffy Academy couldn't deny the delight of McCarthy's Bridesmaids character.   Every time she opens her mouth, the audience is guaranteed a master class in comedic timing.

Carey Mulligan, Shame
As Sissy, a troubled sister of a sex addict, Mulligan plays a part completely different than her breakout performance in An Education.  Unstable, fragile, and with sexual issues of her own, this is a deep and fearless performance.  I could give her the award just for her rendition of "New York, New York."

My Pick: Carey Mulligan
Runner Up: Melissa McCarthy

Matches with Oscar: 3 for 5 with Bejo, Chastain, and McCarthy.  I liked Octavia Spencer in The Help, but her part was sometimes overly broad.  I didn't see Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs.  A nice year for the supporting actresses, though.

Stay tuned for my picks for the leads!