Last Friday, my girlfriend took me out to see Rango, it was an enjoyable movie that took an interesting look at the Western genre. This post, however, is not about the movie we saw last week. This post is to announce that I will be working on an article about the triumphant renaissance of the Western since 2007 with the release of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 3:10 to Yuma, There Will be Blood and (possibly) No Country for Old Men. The genre had been all but dead since Clint Eastwood's beautiful Unforgiven in 1992 until it came raging back. I don't know when the article will be finished, but it is in the works.
In the infamous words of hip-hop superstar, 50 Cent, "It's yo birtday, we gonna party like it's yo birtday."
Robert Altman was one of the most talented, endearing and enduring filmmakers of the American "New-Hollywood" era. His films, starting with his break-out 1970 success, M*A*S*H, defined what American filmmaking was all about. There were times when things got out of hand, but that's true of most visionaries. In 2006, shortly after the release of this master's final film, A Prairie Home Companion, Robert Altman passed away. Since then he has been dearly missed by lovers of American cinema.
Here's hoping that his young protege, and Assistant on his final film, Paul Thomas Anderson, can keep up his streak of brilliance and can one day be placed on the same mantle as Robert Altman.
For those not familiar with Altman's work here is a list of my favorite Altman films: McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville, 3 Women, The Player, Short Cuts, M*A*S*H, A Prairie Home Companion.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Altman (1925-2006) And, happy birthday.
Last night I saw The King’s Speech, I hadn’t planned on writing a review on this masterful film as I cannot possibly add anything constructive to the discussion of this film. It is currently sitting at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as a 95% rating from the users of Yahoo! a demographic notorious for disliking critical darlings, it won the triple crown at the major guilds as it heads toward Oscar gold in two weeks. The fact is that I am just another amateur critic who loved Tom Hopper’s picture. It feels necessary, however, to back up my opinions with concrete thought.
The backbone of this film is the relationship between King George VI, played masterfully by Colin Firth and Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). George has had a st-st-stammer since he was four or five years old, and while we now know that most speech impediments are caused by psychological trauma young in life, the most common way for parents to deal with them in the days of yore was to punish a child. King George V was no different than most of these parents. Without revealing a critical piece of drama, Logue is more familiar with the psychological aspects of speech problems that people have, and is called upon by Geoge VI’s wife, Elizabeth, to help her struggling husband become the man that they believe he is capable of being.
The most dramatic moments of the film are when tensions of the state come between Lionel and George; such as when his older brother, David, is struggling juggling a woman and the responsibilities of being king. This relationship, however, is a delightful one to watch develop as the picture progresses, Lionel’s guidance of the king through his problems is inspiring and oft-times hilarious, though never risible.
Some may write The King’s Speech off as shameless Oscar bait. As a critical darling that has nothing to do with the masses who only want to be entertained. There is some truth in the first statement, but people who say it forget that Oscar bait still has to be pulled off or else you end up with another Elizabeth: The Golden Age or All the King’s Men. If a writer, director and group of actors decide to team up to make a film they believe the academy will enjoy: there is nothing wrong with that. The second statement, however, can only be spoken out of ignorance or not having seen the film. While it is slow in parts, as it is a “talking” movie, both Rush and Firth are at the top of the acting game (and could both end up on the podium giving acceptance speeches), they are hilarious and are vastly entertaining.
Tom Hooper’s film may not, actually, be the best film of 2010. But, that is such an arbitrary and subjective statement that it is hard to quantify, qualify or defend. I do, however, believe that it had the two best performances I saw, and that if it isn’t the best film of last year, it is worthy to be crowned as such if or when it is. This is a picture worth seeing, and if you fall into either of the camps aforementioned, don’t be afraid to put down these prejudices until after you’ve seen it. And, if you still hate it, feel free to tell me I’m wrong and I’ll feel free to accept your opinion as that.
There are very few young filmmakers as dynamic as David Fincher. In fact, Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky come to mind. In his career so far, Fincher has taken on a piece of the Alien franchise, created the film that has, more than any other film defined Generation X, he's definitively proven the guilt of San Francisco's Zodiac Killer and he showed us that people who age backwards are people too...they just lead more complicated lives.
Two years ago, with the release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Fincher finally broke into the "Oscar Nominee" category; with October's release of The Social Network, it seems determined that David Fincher will join the immortal group of Oscar winners. Fincher's film may not be the best film of this year; it is; however, the most timely, generation defining and possibly, important film of 2010. When all is said and done, the 500,000,000 members of Facebook are very real. And when you're able to, not only show the genesis of such a defining tool of the age, but to show it with the grace and power that Fincher and star, Jesse Eisenberg bring to this film, there is something special afoot.
If you're one of us--and by us, I mean the 500 M members of Mark Zuckerberg's website--this is a must see. If you're not one of us--and by this, I mean a person outside of the social networking generation, a generation that spans the concept of age--this film is a tool to help you understand us. Just like 1999's controversial but defining Fight Club, The Social Network takes the defining quality of a generation, boils it down to the elemental and puts it under the microscope.
10. Hereafter - Clint Eastwood: I, admittedly, have yet to see last year's Invictus; however, with the exception of that one film I have seen everything Mr. Eastwood has graced us with since 2003's phenomenal Mystic River. And, while his latest effort may not be to the same level of brilliance as Mystic River and its ending was slightly abrupt, Hereafter has a lot to offer, and represents the growth of an aged and ripened filmmaker at the peak of his powers.
9. Despicable Me - Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud: I know the heat that could possibly come my way for daring to name a DreamWorks animated film over a Pixar title. I don't care, Despicable Me was and is the best animated picture of 2010, Toy Story 3 included. It was a sheer joy to watch start to end, and while the parent inside of me isn't sure how I feel about thieves being put on a pedestal the way they are in this movie, it is still a delight, and one that the whole family can enjoy together.
8. Greenberg - Noah Baumbach: Baumbach has a theme that he works with, that he lives with, that he eats, sleeps and breathes. That is: grown men dealing with the pains of growing up too late and the disfunction that it creates in the oft-pathetic lives. Greenberg follows suit to perfection. While it does not have the raw emotional power of 2005's The Squid and the Whale it is also a more subtle and mature film in many ways. And, in it's subtlety, Baumbach is not withholding any punches and this one brings it.
7. Shutter Island - Martin Scorsese: For those of you who know me, or read this blog at all, you HAVE to know that if Scorsese releases a film, it will be in the top 10. You must also know that if he releases a film and its in the number 7 slot that it's not one of his all time classics and we're in the middle of a solid year in cinema. Both are the case. Shutter Island is not Taxi Driver, Raging Bull or Goodfellas; it may not be The Departed or Bringing Out the Dead; it is, however, every bit as good as Gangs of New York and The Aviator. It brings a psychological depth that may be unsurpassed this year and the end leaves the audience with as many (or more) questions than answers.
6. The Fighter - David O. Russell: This loser cum champion story is the epitome of a sports film. In many ways it's generic. However, when you do the genre better than everyone else, generic doesn't mean much. The saving grace of this film are the performances from the ensemble: Bale, Adams, Leo and Whalberg. Especially Bale and Adams who are both dynamite.
5. Ghost Writer - Roman Polanski: Leave it to Polanski to make a thriller about a ghost writer. But, more so, leave it to Polanski to make a great thriller about a ghost writer. I guess when it comes to it, I don't have a lot to say about this movie. On paper it sounds a little weak. On screen it's anything but.
4. Black Swan - Darren Aronofsky: Natalie Portman kills it in this picture. She brings a depth to her character that is rare, and her performance may be the best by anyone this year. She is flat-out flawless from start to finish. Only Aronofsky could've pulled this film off. By that I mean, only the man who had the gaul to make a psycho-thriller based on mathematics could make such a devastatingly powerful and dark film about the beauty of ballet and the darkness inside of all of us.
3. Inception - Christopher Nolan: Can this man make a bad movie? I'll just list his films. Memento,Insomnia,Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception. Allow me to answer my own question. If he can, he hasn't and God bless him for it. Some people allow themselves to become too wrapped up in the dream sequences to allow themselves to understand the film. There are four levels of dreams. Each time they go farther "down" the level above them slows down. It's a deceptively simple plot with mind-blowing visual effects. And, that's all it has to be.
2. Winter's Bone - Debra Granik: This story about a girl trying to save her home after her deadbeat dad puts the house up for parole is a haunting and beautiful film about survival, and perseverance. It is completely unlike anything I have ever seen before and I loved it.
1. True Grit - Joel and Ethan Coen: The Coen Brothers are, once again, at the peak of their super powers. And, while their True Grit is also an adaptation of the 1968 novel by the same title, it is not a remake of the 1969 John Wayne classic of the same novel. Jeff Bridges plays a one-eyed, old, fat Marshall whose hired by a 14-year old girl to track down the man who killed her father and bring him to justice. You know the story. But you're missing something if you've not seen the Coen's take. Roger Deakins truly outdid himself on this film, and an 8th Oscar nomination and SURELY his first win are within his sights. True Grit is as close to flawless as we can get in most years and that is the reason why it is the best film of 2010.
Continuing on my Cormac McCarthy kick. I am revisiting the masterwork, No Country for Old Men, the Coen Brothers's 2007 Best Picture winning adaptation. I am not going to bother writing a full fledge review on this picture. Every last one of you know how I feel about this film. But the fact is that nearly three years after it came out I am still completely enthralled in the story and the relentless tension of this film. The scene between Chigurh and the gas station attendant is a perfectly crafted scene and is a beautiful example of what this film is all about. Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones are perfect as the three principles and so is the film as a whole. That is all.
-Suppose you were the last man on Earth. -How would you know that. That you were the last man on Earth? -I suppose it wouldn't be something you knew. It'd just be something you did.
These words never come to fruition in either Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning novel or John Hillcoat's fantastic adaptation. But, for one reason or another in this brief scene between The Man (Viggo Mortenson) and Eli (Robert Duvall) we understand what is really at stake in the lives of these dying people getting by on this dying planet. When surviving is to be the last man on Earth, a title that only God would know, what good is survival? What good is a trip to the coast? We don't really know what the point is, all we know is that its all that matters.
John Hillcoat's film is nearly flawless as a film, and looks stunning. The only real complaint to be made against the film is that it lacks some of the poetic punch McCarthy's novel contains. This, however, is not anything against the film just a difference in the mediums of film and literature. The fact that he was willing to take on (what most consider to be) the greatest novel in the canon of one of, if not the greatest American author working today is a feat in itself. But, the fact is, that the novel doesn't offer a lot to film for a mainstream audience which causes the film to feel disjointed at times because there are not the long passages of the man describing the journey on the road, it just shows them traveling briefly before moving onto the next important scene with action or dialogue in it.
I highly recommend seeing this picture. However, I would suggest seeing it before reading the novel if you plan on doing both. If you have already read The Road just keep in mind that you cannot do the same things on film that you can do in a novel and you will appreciate Hillcoat's vision of McCarthy's masterpiece novel.