10 for ’10: Performances

30 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

It’s impossible to celebrate a year in film without mentioning the performances that riveted us.  Without further ado or fanfare, here are the 10 actors who reminded me of the power of their craft with their work in 2010.

Women

Amy Adams as Charlene Fleming in “The Fighter

My original review:
Adams, usually the delightfully effervescent charmer, plays gritty and unapologetic in “The Fighter” and pulls it off to Oscar-worthy standards.  She’s able to pull off just about any sort of character she takes, and the tenacious Charlene is different than anything we’ve ever seen her do before.  It’s exciting to see an actress nowadays who isn’t content with finding one adjective to act and then carve themselves a niche, and Adams is quickly proving herself one of the most versatile actresses of our day.

Reflection:
Amy Adams has wowed me in a variety of different roles, from her unassuming nun in “Doubt” to the ditzy princess in “Enchanted.”  Yet as Charlene, I think she may have hit the most beautiful note in her career so far with her heartfelt conversation with Bale’s Dickie on her front porch.  As she reflects on her life and her good intentions, it’s such a wonderful moment filled with every ounce of sincerity that she has to give.

Barbara Hershey as Erica Sayers in Black Swan

My original review:
The best of the supporting bunch [in “Black Swan”] is by far and away Hershey as the pushy and demanding stage mom.  Such roles often become stock characters; however, Hershey takes the role in frightening and invigorating new directions.

Reflection:
There wasn’t a more frightening performance this year than Hershey as Natalie Portman’s mother.  There’s a whole lot of subtext that Hershey has to act, perhaps a whole hidden backstory as director Darren Aronofsky alluded to, and that’s usually a daunting task for actors to pull off.  Hershey shows no dust from her long hiatus from acting, keeping us scared and entranced at the same time.

Julianne Moore as Jules in “The Kids Are All Right

My original review:
It’s Julianne Moore who absolutely brings down the house [in “The Kids Are All Right”].  As the more flighty, free-spirited Jules, she wins our hearts from the get-go, even if her antics only illicit groans from her other half.  The character is very complex as she begins reeling from Paul’s introduction, exploring sides of herself she didn’t know even existed.  It’s glorious to watch Moore dig deeper and deeper into her character as the movie goes on.  She’s responsible for some of the movie’s funniest moments but also for its most effective emotional scene.  Academy, take note.

Reflection:
Throughout the awards season, many pundits have thrown out that Annette Bening’s role in “The Kids Are All Right” is the character the audience is meant to sympathize with and thus makes her the better candidate for Best Actress.  Without dragging politics into it, I found Julianne Moore’s Jules the more sympathetic character and, by the end, the only one I actually cared about.  Moore has delivered so many fantastic performances, but what makes this one stand head and shoulders over the rest is her total emotional engagement in the role.  We feel her torment, her frustration, and her confusion so profoundly because of how engrossed she is in the character.  And what she puts in, we get out of the performance.

Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers in “Black Swan

My original review:
The star of the show is Portman, and “Black Swan” is made all the more fascinating by how Nina’s development mirrors her performance.  Much like Nina must lose herself in the role of the Swan Princess, Portman absolutely disappears into her character.  It’s a shocking and startling transformation due to Portman’s dedication to learning the craft of ballet and her impeccable acting.  The movie stands as a testament to the fact that she is one of the best emerging actresses of her generation, and her flawless showing here deserves to be minted in history alongside the greatest of all time.  Portman gives a once-in-a-lifetime performance, and to miss it would be to deny yourself the chance to see as close to perfection as is cinematically possible.

Reflection:
Perfect.  It was perfect.

Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross in “True Grit”

Reflection:
I have yet to review “True Grit,” but when I do, expect the highest of praise for newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.  There are very few actors that can spit out period dialogue at lightning speed with confidence, and there are probably even fewer that can do the same with the dialogue of the Coen Brothers.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do both so well, a feat that would impress me from an Academy Award-winning actress but floors me when I consider that this is a debut performer.  At such a young age, she has a complete and total mastery of her character’s deepest desires and feelings, and such a strong presence out in front of “True Grit” makes it a movie and a performance I won’t soon forget.

Men

Christian Bale as Dickie Ecklund in The Fighter

My original review:
The knockout punch of “The Fighter” is the performance of Christian Bale, a totally authentic portrayal of a drug addict, former boxer, jealous trainer – and all simultaneously.  He doesn’t act or perform as the real life Dickie Ecklund so much as he becomes him and inhabits him.  Every twitch, every word is meticulously planned by Bale, who slimmed down from his Batman physique to play the gaunt Dickie.

Reflection:
“The Fighter” is Micky Ward’s story, but it’s Dickie Ecklund’s movie.  Bale, completely lost in the character, brings together all of his strengths to deliver what could be the quintessential performance of his career.  It shows his physical commitment, his uncompromising authenticity, and a strangely pervasive sense of heart that’s often a little rough around the edges.

Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network

My original review:
Eisenberg nails all the eccentricities of the fast-talking technological wiz, and the nuances in his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg will captivate for endless viewings.

Reflection:
Who is Mark Zuckerberg?  After “The Social Network” was released, millions of people were left trying to answer the question.  Is he the savior of the Internet and the symbol of a new era, or is he the force that will inadvertently bring it down and destroy all the comforts of our former lives?  What makes this screen version of Zuckerberg so captivating is that Jesse Eisenberg doesn’t attempt to answer this question.  Eisenberg gets to the core of what he thinks is motivating Zuckerberg, going so deep that no bias or opinion can color his interpretation.  Then, he lays it all out on the screen and leaves it up to the viewer to decide who Mark Zuckerberg is.  With the magazine TIME naming the entrepreneur their person of the year, Eisenberg may have made Mark Zuckerberg the folk hero of the digital age.

Colin Firth as King George VI in “The King’s Speech

My original review:
It’s Firth’s show in the flashy role of King George, a character that must be inhabited, not just performed.  Firth nails it, getting inside every thought and stammer of the king.  He doesn’t just brush the surface as many actors playing historical figures do; he makes George vulnerable and sentimental.  Firth’s poignant performance reminds us that what we should be looking for in movies like this is heart.

Reflections:
The royal family of England always feels so distant on film, living a life filmmakers believe is so different that ours that they have to put them in an ivory tower.  Yet Colin Firth, armed with a fantastically written human being by the name of King George VI, tears their mythological status down brick by brick until his royal figure is so down to earth that he feels like an old friend.  The movie wouldn’t have been half as inspiring had Firth not brought such an enormously relatable pathos to the role.

James Franco as Aron Ralston in “127 Hours

My original review:
There’s never a dull or wasted moment to be found in the movie thanks to Franco’s sublime and enlightened performance.  While shooting on location, Boyle consistently had him act in character for 20 minutes straight and then relied on the editor to find 30 seconds to make it into the final cut.  This total immersion into Ralston’s desperation makes Franco all the more raw and moving.

Reflection:
The blasting score, fancy editing, and flashy cinematography of “127 Hours” can only go so far to make a static movie work.  It requires a dynamic actor, both heartbreaking and heartwarming, that we can stick with until the bitter end.  James Franco does just that and more as he makes pain and hope so tangible and so authentic that the movie never feels anything less than real.  If anyone ever had a doubt that we need actors more than ever, Franco’s flawless work is all that’s needed to silence any critic.

Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin in “The Social Network

My original review:
Andrew Garfield as the upright Saverin is a force to be reckoned with, a true presence throughout the movie with his very likable charm.  For just that reason, he makes it wrenching to watch the inevitable turn when Saverin gets cheated.

Reflection:
While Zuckerberg’s prickly exterior prevents us from ever liking him too much, Andrew Garfield endows Eduardo Saverin with a sharp mind, firm beliefs, and a strong moral compass, making us fall head over heels for his character.  He’s an irresistible force on the screen, the good angel resting on Zuckerberg’s right shoulder whispering in his ear to follow common wisdom.  The movie’s emotional climax wouldn’t work if we weren’t rooting for Saverin the entire time, and when he explodes with anger, you’ll want to jump in the frame and punch the jerks who wronged him.

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10 for ’10: Criticism

29 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

If someone classified this blog (good luck trying to do that, anyone that might attempt to) as one thing, I bet they’d be likely to say it’s a movie review site.  While I do much more, and I urge you to check out all the other things I do, it’s probably true that I am most prominently a movie critic.

So how can I look back on a year of blogging without retrospectively looking at my own writing?  So here are excerpts from 10 of what I believe were my best reviews this year – 5 good movies, 5 bad movies – that I believe best demonstrate my love of writing, language, and some good wordplay.

(NOTE: I’m only putting excerpts because I want you to go read the whole review!  So don’t be afraid to click the links!)

The Good

Black Swan

There’s really no one else but Aronofsky who could pull off a big, brassy movie like this.  He’s simply the best visual filmmaker out there.  As if his first two movies, “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream,” weren’t powerful enough, “Black Swan” is Aronofsky in full bloom, showing absolute command of all cinematic vocabulary.  There is no boundary too sacred or stiff for him to toy with, and he doesn’t so much push them as he does eradicate them.  Thus, “Black Swan” isn’t just a victory for Aronofsky and the rest of the crew; it’s a victory for the craft of filmmaking as we know it.

127 Hours

But overall, it’s the humanity that Danny Boyle brings to the screen that makes this a cinematic achievement unlike any other.  He manages to engage our senses on frightening levels.  The pain we feel as we watch the boulder crush Ralston’s arm.  The disgust we feel when Ralston is left with no alternative but to drink his own urine.  The fear we feel as Ralston slowly loses his mind and begins to have delusions.  The gut-clenching agony we feel as Ralston amputates his own arm – and the catharsis we feel when he at last emerges from the canyon and finds refuge.  Ultimately, Franco and Boyle’s commitment do more than engage our senses.  They engage our souls.

Inception

Nolan pulls out all the stops to make sure that this world comes to vibrant life, beginning with his own script that never fails to captivate us.  It’s heavy on the hard-hitting drama, and he always makes sure to remind us that no matter what’s going on around these people, they are still humans with emotions as complex as the world around them.  These characters are fully realized, with rivalries, passions, and hatreds.  Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s going on when a movie exists in four different layers of reality, but we manage to stay grounded through these characters and Nolan’s impeccable sense of direction.

The Town

Over the course of two well written hours, “The Town” explores and analyzes this question all the while providing fantastic drama and thrilling chases, robberies, and shoot-outs.  It has Affleck written all over it, and not just because of the location.  He makes Charlestown a character in itself, and we get to know it just as well as any of the people populating the set.  Very few directors have the dexterity to capture a city in all of its glory and sordidness, and it’s a credit to Affleck’s prowess that he can make it feel so authentic.  He also gets the best out of an extraordinary cast, and everything working together towards Affleck’s vision provides one dynamite moviewatching experience.

Toy Story 3

As the movie chugged towards an ending, I realized that I hadn’t just grown up with the toys.  I’ve grown up with Andy, too.  I was too young to remember seeing the first movie, but I was around Andy’s age at the release of the second installment.  And as Andy prepares to move away from home and go to college in “Toy Story 3,” I am only one year behind, getting ready to make the decisions that will push me farther away from home and the innocence of my childhood.  The movie is especially resonant for the generation of children that grew up with the “Toy Story” movies, allowing us to reminisce about the times where we didn’t need laptops or iPods to entertain us.  Once, it only took a few toys and an unbounded imagination to make us happy, and “Toy Story 3″ gives us a window back into the simpler times of our youth.  It’s a feeling both joyous and sad, but overall, it’s beautiful.

The Bad

The Bounty Hunter

The movie is an action comedy – well, if you count Butler punching a few people as action and a few pity sneer as comedy.  We’ve never quite seen a plot like this, where exes fight with stakes as high as prison, but it never feels the slightest bit original.  In fact, it just feels like an old trip down Memory Lane, mimicking every sort of used gimmick with ex-lovers.  But boy, Memory Lane has never looked so run-down or shabby.  It’s time for some renovation.

The Crazies

Sound familiar?  It’s not just a remake of the 1973 George A. Romero original; it’s a rehash of every horror movie since.  Eventually, enough is enough, and cheap jumps and thrills only spell out boredom.  The movie gets harder and harder to enjoy as it drags on … and on … and on.  We know exactly what’s going to happen just from hearing the premise.  Maybe the perceived lack of originality speaks to how influential the first movie was.  But I missed the memo that the original was some kind of cultural watershed, so I’m just going to interpret this rendition of “The Crazies” as the latest dull entry into the woefully overflowing “been there, done that” category.

Dinner for Schmucks

At “Dinner for Schmucks,” the real schmuck is you, the unsuspecting moviegoer who is lured in by the wattage of comedic stars Steve Carell and Paul Rudd.  With your money, you’ve financed a dinner for sadists, the executives who will make a profit off of your pain.  Perhaps a more fitting title is “Movie for Morons” because that’s exactly what you’ll be if you see this movie.

Edge of Darkness

“Edge of Darkness” is more of an epitaph than a movie. Gather here to mourn these fallen talents, it seems to cry. Perhaps Monahan needs Scorsese’s vision to succeed; perhaps Campbell needs the stakes of a hero like James Bond to make a movie work; perhaps Mel Gibson just needs some help.

MacGruber

There are movies that beg you not to be taken seriously, and then there are those that beg you not to take the craft of cinema seriously.  ”MacGruber” is the latter of the two, trying to fly on the flimsy premise that a sketch that can barely sustain two minutes on TV could make an entertaining movie that’s 45 times bigger.  Perhaps Lorne Michaels will come up with a more clever way to make money off this movie in the future: take “MacGruber” off the case and slap on the title “The Worst of Will Forte.”





10 for ’10: Quotes

28 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

A single line can have so much power in a movie.  It can make us laugh, make us think, or make us cry.  It can delve profoundly into the soul, give insight into a character’s mind, provide a perfect punch of beautiful language, or be so foolish that we can’t help but repeat it endlessly.

2010 gave us many great quotes from many great movies.  Here’s just a sampling of how the power of the written word was wielded this year from 10 fantastic lines that served a great deal of purposes.


“Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster.”
– Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) in “The Social Network

“I just want to be perfect.”
– Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) in “Black Swan

“That Charlene … she’s one of them MTv girls!”
– Micky Ward’s sisters in “The Fighter

“It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!”
– Agnes in “Despicable Me

“This rock has been waiting for me my entire life.”
– Aron Ralston (James Franco) in “127 Hours

“It was almost as if … I had a love that was all mine.”
– Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) referencing Natasha Bedengfield in “Easy A

“You’re waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you can’t be sure. But it doesn’t matter … because we’ll be together.”
– Mal (Marion Cotillard) in “Inception

“When the world slips you a Jeffrey, just stroke the furry walls.”
– Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) in “Get Him to the Greek

“Stop trying, SURRENDER!”
– Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins) in “Eat Pray Love

“Thanks, guys.”
– Andy in “Toy Story 3





10 for ’10: Factoids

27 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

If you read this site frequently, you can’t help but notice the random factoids since I publish them every day.  It’s a labor of love, summoning up some kind of opinion or awkward experience to keep the series running on a daily basis.  But nonetheless, I love it and the factoids help keep me current on all my movie knowledge.

So here’s to ten of my favorite factoids that I published in 2010!  (I only put little descriptions underneath in the hopes that you go and read them!)

Random Factoid #252
(where I get a little unruly in the theater)

Random Factoid #322
(where I get teared up)

Random Factoid #358
(where I need a neck massage)

Random Factoid #365
(where I make a yummy cake)

Random Factoid #376
(where I rip a dumb article to pieces)

Random Factoid #388
(where I talk about the rain)

Random Factoid #431
(where I uncover a latent pet peeve)

Random Factoid #449
(where I refute yet another stupid article)

Random Factoid #484
(where I describe an awkward theater experience)

Random Factoid #496
(where I get a compliment from the filmmaker I talk about!)





10 for ’10: Worst Movies

26 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

How do you know when it’s been a bad year for the movies?  Answer: when you have to narrow down a field of the year’s worst.  There were WAY too many candidates for this 2010’s worst of the year; I had to whittle down from a list of 20 to get an ultimate 10.  You’ll notice that “I Am Love” is absent from this list despite me giving it a flat F, and that’s because I saw it way back in 2009.

So enjoy – or cringe – this list of movies so bad, they don’t even get a snide remark under the picture.  They just get linked back to my review from earlier in the year when I totally trashed them.  Take the time to look at the reviews if you need convincing – I think I write my best stuff when I’m mad as #&*$ writing a bad review.

(NOTE: These are the worst movies that I saw this year.  There are probably much worse out there that I simply refuse to subject myself to watching.)

10.
Grown Ups

9.
The Last Airbender

8.
Alice in Wonderland

7.
Clash of the Titans

6.
Splice

5.
Dinner for Schmucks

4.
MacGruber

3.
The Bounty Hunter

2.
The Wolfman

1.
Marmaduke





10 for ’10: Movie Bloggers

25 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

Merry Christmas to all!  As I wrap up on this great day, I wanted to give thanks and celebrate all the many bloggers who have made the continued success (as I perceive it) of this blog.  So hopefully these ten sites that inspired me all year long like this last-minute gift under tree!  And for those of you looking for an extra gift, look here at these amazing sites (presented in alphabetical order)!

Anomalous Material

…because I’m consistently amazed by how well you manage to round up and unite the movie blogging community.  Bravo, take a bow.

Blog Cabins

…because I still have no idea how you do it all.

Central Florida Film Critic

…because I love reading someone with a totally different viewpoint than I have.  As Nietzsche wrote, “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently,” and I sure hold your views in high esteem.

Cut the Crap Movie Reviews

…because reading your reviews is like talking to that endlessly witty friend.  After reading just one review, I felt like I knew you.

The Dark of the Matinee

…because I feel smarter every time I read your blog.  So well organized and so well-written, a visit to your site is like a shot of envy.

Four of Them

…because you comment so much on my site that I have to go visit your site all the time.  But not to sound obliged, I enjoy the variety of content and your boldness in not following any rhythm or pattern but your own.

The List

…because every post of yours is so gosh darned hilarious that I check you first when I need any sort of comedic inspiration for anything I write.

M. Carter at the Movies

…because you have the boldness to put down what you love to do what you have to do.  I admire you so much for having your priorities in line, and if I am ever in your position, I hope I can handle myself with your grace.  I’m excited that you are back and can’t wait until you get the motor running full speed ahead once more.

Nevermind Pop Film

…because you like my posts!  Thank you for adopting the new technology … perhaps others will follow your lead.  Meanwhile, on your site, I get so much personality and so much variety.

Paragraph Film Reviews

…because I admire your conciseness and wish I could emulate you more often, as I tend to get awfully verbose at times.

Thanks to everyone who writes, reads, or comments!  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

 





10 for ’10 – Worst Predictions

23 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

We can’t be right all the time, unfortunately.  I’m among the guilty people on this planet who make stupid predictions every once in a while, and I made them often with conviction.  Now that the year is over, here’s a look back at some of my worst predictions in chronological order – and with 2011 up ahead, I’m laughing at these predictions.

January

“… if there is a breakout hit in [January], my bet is on [‘Leap Year’].”

What To Look Forward To in … January 2010

Well, this didn’t turn out so well.  In the first weekend of 2010, “Leap Year” opened to $9 million on its way to a total haul of only $25 million, ending up among the bottom half of January grossers.  On the bright side, it did manage to recoup its production budget!

“Could Kristen Bell become a breakout romantic comedy star with ‘When in Rome?’ … I have a feeling that this could surprise people and a new start could be born.”

What To Look Forward To in … January 2010

When in Rome” only grossed about $32 million in its whole run, or in Leyman’s terms, what “Avatar” grossed in its 7th weekend.  As for Kristen Bell, she still hasn’t hit it big; “You Again” grossed even less in September.

April

 

“I’m waiting for tomorrow – ‘Clash of the Titans,’ baby!”

Shameless Advertisement #11 – April 2010

Talk about a bust.  “Clash of the Titans” was a huge disappointment as I was really eagerly anticipating it.  As I wrote in my review, “My eyes might have seen in three dimensions, but my brain saw a movie that only had one.  Given how deeply rooted in mythology the story is, I had very high expectations for ‘Clash of the Titans.’  Unfortunately … it fails on all levels.”

May

“[Best Supporting Actor]  LOVES villians … It is also a category that likes to reward actors (usually veterans) who are overdue for a trophy … By these two characteristics, Rourke would appear to have a great shot.”

Oscar Moment: “Iron Man 2”

It’s funny because while I wasn’t a fan of “Iron Man 2,” I actually thought Rourke was the worst part of the movie, and there I was writing about his awards chances!  As I said in my review, “It’s hard to believe from watching ‘Iron Man 2’ that Mickey Rourke was being heralded as an Oscar nominee just 18 months ago.  When we aren’t waiting for him to say a word, his Whiplash seems to be nothing more than an unkind Russian stereotype.”  Clearly I liked “The Wrestler” too much …

“If ‘The Dark Knight’ was part of the reason that the Oscars moved to ten nominees, then they are still looking for that popcorn flick with enough brain to atone for their horrifying omission.  ‘Robin Hood‘ could be that movie.”

Oscar Moment: “Robin Hood”

Clearly I forgot about a little movie called “Inception” that was gearing up for release.

August

“Don’t be surprised if [‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’] is an out-of-nowhere smash hit.”

What To Look Forward To in … August 2010

Despite massive love from the bloggers, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” became a high-profile flop over the summer, earning just $10 million in fifth place its opening weekend on its way to just over $30 million cumulatively.  Ouch.

October

“I think the premise alone [of ‘The Social Network’] draws in $80 million in revenue, but the fact that it’s going to be really good will increase its total take to somewhere in the range of $120-150 million.  I’m hardly a box office analyst, I know, yet I feel pretty confident making this financial prediction.”

Oscar Moment: “The Social Network”

Perhaps I overestimated the box office potential of “The Social Network” earlier this year.  The Facebook movie drew in a respectable but not great $23 million in its opening weekend and displayed strong legs to power itself to $91 million (and still counting slowly).  So I was a little bit off on it setting the box office on fire.  But to my credit, I was dead-on about it being the Best Picture frontrunner all those months ago.

“I think [‘Hereafter’] could be a very powerful movie …”

What To Look Forward To in … October 2010

Hereafter” was a pretty big disappointment for me in 2010.  I wrote in my review, “In hyperlink cinema, one might say there exists a formula that the final product is equal to the sum of its parts.  However, Eastwood’s ‘Hereafter’ in total feels like less.”  Too bad, it could have been something good.

November

“To save the weekend, there’s Rachel McAdams in ‘Morning Glory!’  As if she’s not enough, Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton are on board for this drama-comedy mix that doesn’t seem to favor any genre over the other.  What a great surprise awaits us!”

What To Look Forward To in … November 2010

Rachel McAdams may have won me over with her incredibly good looks, but she sure didn’t win me over with her 2010 movie selection.  “Morning Glory” was incredibly cliched and forgettable, and it was hardly a breath of fresh air in November like I had imagined it would be.  It was recycled air, like the gross kind on a plane.

December

“… ‘How Do You Know‘ is still unseen, but I’m getting good vibes.  Probably stupid to put it on my list [of predicted Best Picture nominees] instead of ‘Another Year,’ but I’m going gutsy.”

Oscar Moment: November Predictions

How do you know when a movie won’t get a Best Picture nomination?  When despite being directed by an Academy Award-winning filmmaker, it can’t even muster up a single Golden Globe nomination and movies like “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Tourist” can.  If my hunch back then somehow winds up being right, I think a whole lot of people will give up Oscar guessing as a hobby.