Cinema News and Reviews for the Rest of Us

Archive for January, 2011

The same nation but two different civilizations…

Frank Rich of the New York Times has written a wonderful piece concerning two of the year’s best films, True Grit and The Social Network, and what those two films say about where our nation has come from and what it has become.

Thinking about the two films side by side, the differences in the societies they portray is startling, and not altogether comforting when considering the progression.  Loyalty triumphs and is lauded in one, and is abandoned and even mocked in the other.   Of course, True Grit could be said to have a rather romantic view of old-time American values, but as Mark Zuckerberg’s refreshingly observant ex Erica says in The Social Network, “just because something is trite doesn’t make it not true.”

Check the article out here….

The One-Eyed Man Is King


The Oscar Race: All over but the shoutin’

“You better lawyer up, asshole.  Because when I come back, I’m not coming back for 30%.  I’m coming back…for everything.”

People follow the movies awards season with varying degrees of cynicism, but I find them worth following.  Though they’re decided on by secluded and sometimes rarified voting bodies, they do have an impact on trends, careers, and future opportunities for those producing our films, and they speak to a cultural desire to cultivate our art and praise great work.  The most notable and influential of these accolades is the Oscar, and though the ceremony is still over a month away, it appears that the Best Picture race is all but over

Perhaps the greatest piece of cinematic art this nation has produced this year is David Fincher’s The Social Network, and the film looks poised to run away with the Oscars next month.  It almost completely swept the critics awards over the last could months, and last Sunday is won big at the Golden Globes, an upset of sorts considering that the European voting body of those awards was expected to reward Britain’s The King’s Speech.  The race for Best Picture is now pretty much decided, and while some will bemoan the lack of suspense leading up to the Oscars, I find it refreshing that an award that still carries considerable weight will be bestowed upon a film worthy of being propped up on the highest pedestal possible.

The Social Network might just be the greatest American film of the last decade, an epic and intimate piece of filmmaking that’s about as close to a perfect movie as you get.  Its writing is tight and wonderful.  Its acting is nuanced and superb.  Its direction and cinematography are hypnotic.  Its themes and delimmas are unviersal and eternal.

Suffice it to say I won’t be upset to sit down for the Oscars knowing full well what will come out on top.

‘The Dark Knight Rises’ has its villains

The mystery and debate can finally end.  Christopher Nolan’s next Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, now has its villains.  According to reports today, Anne Hathaway will play Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman), and Tom Hardy will fill the role of Bane.

I definitely got this one wrong, as I’ve been saying for months that I didn’t believe Nolan would go the Catwoman route, despite hints in the previous film and swirling industry rumors.  And though I’m not sure how that villain will fit into Nolan’s Batman universe, I trust the director completely with his choice of roles and his casting decisions.  The last time I doubted the guy, it was with a “what the fuck?” when Heath Ledger was announced as the Joker…

At this moment, Tom Hardy as Bane is the real slam dunk here.  Bane is often thought of as the super-strong guy with the freakish muscle structure, but in the more legitimate comic narrative those nasty medical experiments boosted his intellect as well as his physique.  Few character actors in film have shown an ability to play brains and brawn with the same panache as Tom Hardy, and after his excellent supporting turn in Nolan’s Inception, this could be the final spark that catapults him into the Hollywood limelight.  He’s overdue.

An interesting-perhaps-only-to-me side note:  In the comics, Bane is the only villain to successfully defeat Batman in a physical fight.  The Joker fights him to a draw a few times, but Bane beat the piss out of him, and actually corners the Caped Crusader and breaks his back.  Effectively, Bane is the one to kill Batman…


It looks like MGM, and its James Bond franchise, will survive

Just when MGM and its valuable Bond franchise seemed on the brink of doom, the sky is blue again.  MGM has undergone an asset restructuring that will allow them to crawl out from under their $4 billion debt, and the next Bond film is officially back on track.  Even better, the next Bond will still have Sam Mendes attached as director, with lead Daniel Craig returning as the bed-hopping super spy.  So the dream of seeing what the man behind Amerian Beauty and Road to Perdition will do with a bond flick remains alive.

MGM will still likely end up in the hands of one of the major studios somewhere down the road, probably Paramount.  But with this restructuring the eventual move should be less traumatic.  Though Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit was pushing ahead with other funding opportunities anyway, this is great news for that project as well, and should prevent the financial hiccups that often accompany productions of that magnitude.

Top 10 Films of 2010

Many apologies for the long holiday absence.  To kick things off for 2011, I figured what better way than to roll out the Top 10 of 2010.  This has been a phenomenal year for films, with a broad array of excellent features spanning across the genres and across all ages.  Hats off to the film industry, from the major studios to the boutiques to independent shops the world over, for a superior 2010.

10.  How To Train Your Dragon

Dreamworks Animation was quickly going stale, while Pixar just kept surging forward.  The studio needed to reestablish itself post-Shrek, and it did just that with this exhilirating and poignant fairy tale.  Using the light touch that has allowed Pixar’s films to mine complex thematics in its child-friendly films, Dragon offers a pointed critique of jingoism while never failing to excite us and make us feel.  Pixar may have a real competitor after all.

9.  127 Hours

Danny Boyle’s brutal yet ultimately joyous film goes further than simply detailing the desire to survive; it examines why one should survive.  Played with Oscar-quality honesty by James Franco, Aaron Ralston must ask himself this question.  And when he answers it, his famous escape from under that rock in the desert is as tortuous and brutal and beautiful as any survivor story in recent memory.  Life is affirmed, but not for its own sake.  You have to want it for the right reasons.

8.  Carlos

Olivier Assayas walks a remarkable tightrope throughout his epic biography of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, also known as “Carlos the Jackal”.  He manages to make one of the 20th century’s most famous killers into a human being while never condoning of glorifying his exploits.  We get a meticulously detailed portrait of rage, megalomania, and ambition wrapped up tight and exploded upon the world, turning a dangerous anti-hero into a vital cog of the chaotic modern world.

7.  The King’s Speech

Colin Firth just keeps turning in one elite performance after another, this time as as the neurotic and speech-impaired King George VI.  Firth manages to get the audience to completely sympathize with a pampered royal, guiding is through his shame and insecurity as he struggles to become the figurehead his nation needs during a time of great crisis.  Geoffrey Rush also delivers top-tier work as a speech therapist confronted with his career’s most difficult patient.

6.  Let Me In

American Horror certainly needed a fresh injection of ‘art,’ and it’s perfectly alright that it had to go to Sweden to get it.  The remake of Let The Right One In is dark and deft in its approach to this powerful story, with themes and ideas more finely tuned than those in its predecessor.  This isn’t so much a oddly loving tale of two outsiders coming together as it is a foreboding portrait of innocence at risk in a world that has lost the ability to guide it.

5.  Toy Story 3

The greatest movie studio in the world maintains its consistency with the year’s best animated film.  Both a lament to the transient nature of love and a cheerful look at the hope of new beginnings, the film finds Pixar yet again at the height of their powers.  The saga of Woody and the gang couldn’t have ended much better than this, and I trust Pixar to know when a story is over, and move on to their next masterpiece.

4.  Winter’s Bone

A dark odyssey into the depths of a forgotten America, this stirring film also gives us 2010’s greatest heroine.  Jennifer Lawrence delivers one of the year’s best performances, imbuing her character with herculean toughness and unnerving vulnerability as she searches the meth-infested wastes of the Missouri Ozarks for her missing father.  The stakes always feel high, and the region is painted with both a knowing affection and a brooding, dangerous malevolence.

3.  Black Swan

You never quite know where director Darren Aronovsky is going to go next, in his filmography and within the films themselves, but he’s never kept viewers more off-balance and more entranced than he does in Black Swan.  Natalie Portman also gives the film her all, digging deep in order to convey the crushing fears and insecurities of her delicate ballerina.  The film is the work of a polished and mature master as well as a headstrong risk-taker, and its success with audiences is great to see.

2.  Inception

There’s still room for big ideas at the megaplex.  Christopher Nolan could have used his Batman clout to cash in on some other franchise or slam-dunk adaptation.  Instead, he chose to cash his chips and make something utterly original, a grand-scale journey into the depths of ourselves as never before seen onscreen.  In Nolan’s dream-scouring universe, the mind is not only the lair of our secrets, but the temple of our souls, both strong and resilient and yet fully capable of destruction and damnation.  Give the film the benefit of a couple repeat viewings, and its greatness only grows.

1.  The Social Network

Not only the best film of 2010, but also one of the great literary works of the young century, using computers and the tricky alleys of the Information Age to paint a picture of humanity as true and eternal as Shakespeare or Greek tragedy.  Aaron Sorkin’s whip-smart screenplay and the restless energy of the cast keep things moving at a blistering pace, but it’s the quiet moments that will stay with you.  For director David Fincher’s Facebook epic isn’t about digital speed or even modern social networking.  It certainly isn’t just about Facebook.  It is about Facebook and devices like it will never change.  It’s about the human systems that govern societies, the fears and ambitions that occupy our lives, the somber and angry quiet that can envelop us when we feel alone and unwanted, the desire to stamp our mark on the world so that others know we exist.  It is about what makes us…us.