Friday, January 29, 2010

2009 Year in Review: Cristina's Top Ten List

My wife Cristina puts up with a lot from me in terms of movies. Fridays spent by herself as I stay in Toronto to catch the latest smaller movie that opened that week. A week in September where she doesn't see me at all as I see 30 movies at the Toronto Film Festival. Not to mention all the movies I drag her to over the course of the year. And yet, despite the fact that she sometimes complains about the amount of time I spend on movies, she is supportive, and I think she actually loves goes to the movies with me. So every year, I have Cristina make up her own top 10 list - and the result often surprise me. So, I decided to share her top ten list with you, with just a few comments from me.

10. Invictus (Clint Eastwood)
Cristina played rugby as a high school student, and has spent the last few years coaching it at the school where she teaches (Go Titans!). She is also a history major, so I think the combination of rugby and Nelson Mandella were too much for her to resist in this one.

9. Star Trek (JJ Abrams)
At heart, my lovely wife is a nerd. She spent much of her youth watching the Star Trek series, and although she intially mocked the idea of a reboot of the franchise, she couldn't help herself.

8. District 9 (Neil Blomkamp)
A movie she swears she will never watch again (I think it was the fingernail that did it), she still really liked this socially aware sci-fi, action epic.

7. Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)
She loved Juno a few years back (she even shows it in her class now!), so she was already on board with director Jason Reitman - despite the fact that she is the only woman I know who doesn't really like George Clooney. She does love happy endings however.

6. Up (Pete Docter)
Cristina loves animation, and although she openly mocks me for my love of Pixar, particularly how it seems like everyone of their films makes me cry, she knows good movies when she sees them.

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)
The most surprising entry on her list for me, as she has never warmed to Wes Anderson before, and I remember laughing my ass off during this movie, but not her as much. However, she says this is a movie she plans to rewatch a number of times.

4. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
Another surprising entry for me, as she thought I built the movie up too much before we went to see it (sorry, I saw it by myself 14 months before we saw it together!). Yet, I know she felt the suspense in this movie - how could she not.

3. Inglorious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
Despite the fact that every time Tarantino's name comes up in conversation, Cristina talks about how he masterbates behind the camera, she cannot help but love his movies (well, except Death Proof!).

2. Precious (Lee Daniels)
Cristina likes inspiring dramas that have a message to them. I guess that's what she responded to here.

1. An Education (Lone Scherfig)
I practically had to drag Cristina to see this movie. She hadn't seen a preview, hadn't heard about the movie, had never heard of Carey Mulligan, and generally did not care if she saw this one. But I knew this was exactly the type of movie that she would love. A true story about a girl who does some stupid things, before she wises up. The happy ending clinched it for her. She still raves about this one every time it comes up - and I have a feeling she's going to swear at the TV on Oscar night when Sandra Bullock wins the Oscar meant for Mulligan.

2009 Year in Review: The Worst Performances

So, with the Razzie nominations coming up, I figured I would give them some advice on performances to nominate in all four of their acting categories. But to keep this from being a completely depressing exercise, I did list some great performances in bad movies, to go along with the lists of bad performances in good movies and just all out terrible performances.

Worst Actor: Although I am risking the wrath of every teenage girl in the country, I have yet to see any evidence to prove that Robert Pattinson can do anything more than to glare off into space. In The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Pattinson looks like a heroin addict, and acts like a zombie, not a vampire. It is utterly painful to watch this kid try and act. The sooner they do a “What Ever Happened to?” segment on Pattinson, the happier I will be.
Runners-Up: Both Jack Black and Michael Cera are god awful and unfunny from beginning to end in Year One, Will Ferrell delivers his worst performance ever in Land of the Lost, Matthew McConaghey is always a hollow shell of an actor, but I’m not sure he has ever been worse than he is in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.

Worst Actor in a Good Movie: Steven Soderbergh’s wonderful The Girlfriend Experience features a great performance by real life porn star Sasha Grey as a prostitute, but as her boyfriend and personal trainer, Chris Santos just isn’t very good at all. This makes it harder for Soderbergh to draw parallels between Grey and Santos, making this film not quite the great film it should have been.
Runners-Up: The Last House on the Left is a wonderful horror movie that is almost impossible to take at certain points. Yet, Tony Goldwyn who plays the father doesn’t quite pull off the father who snaps and murders his daughter’s attackers. The direction makes up for this, but Goldwyn should have been able to elevate this movie.

Best Actor in a Bad Movie: Robert Downey Jr. is one of the best actors in the world, and he makes The Soloist an almost passable movie. He plays the type of asshole character who is never the hero in an inspirational drama like this. True, The Soloist still isn’t a good movie - but it is a joy to watch Downey in it.
Runners-Up: Michael Shannon makes his character in Werner Herzog’s My Son My Son What Have Ye Done? interesting and complex for much of the running time - until you realize that no one involved in the production understands his character or even much cares. Liam Neeson does some great, subtle work in The Other Man - too bad the film doesn’t play fair with the audience. Shot before The Wrestler and ending up sitting up a shelf for a few years, you understand why Killshot didn’t get a wide release, but Mickey Rourke as a half Native hit man is wonderful.

Worst Actress: Hilary Swank has two Oscars at home, and yet besides those two performances, she has not done very many other great roles. But her work in Amelia is a new nadir for her. She takes one of the most fascinating women in history and turns her into an absolute bore. Swank has never been worse.
Runners-Up: Milla Jovovich is not the most talented actress in the world, but even she usually does better than she does in The Fourth Kind. Uma Thurman should never make romantic comedies, and if you doubt check out her absolute worst performance in The Accidental Husband. Sandra Bullock had a career year with The Proposal and The Blind Side, but her work in All About Steve is best forgotten. Odette Yustman looks kind of like Megan Fox in The Unborn but she makes Fox look like Meryl Streep in comparison.

Worst Actress in a Good Movie: Perhaps its not fair to say this, but Arsinee Khanjian should never have been cast in Adoration. She is so ill suited for the role that her whole segment of the movie is a little hard to believe. This is the best directed and written film her husband Atom Egoyan has made in years, but he should have known better than to cast his very talented wife in this role.
Runners-Up: Like Goldwyn, Monica Potter never quite captures the right note as the mother in The Last House on the Left and this somewhat dulls the impact of the finale. Jessica Biel just doesn’t really seem to fit in with the rest of the cast in Easy Virtue, and not in the way I believe Oscar Wilde intended her character to stick out.

Best Actress in a Bad Movie: I have never been a fan of Megan Fox, but she is equal doses of sexy and funny in Jennifer’s Body, a film that doesn’t capture the same magic as Diablo Cody’s previous written film Juno. But Fox shows that if given the right role she can actually be a wonderful, sexy actress. Too bad the film isn’t very good.
Runners-Up: Megan Fox’s co-star Amanda Seyfried in Jennifer’s Body is almost as good as Fox was. With these two you almost want to overlook the fatal flaws in the films. Kristen Stewart is the only reason to watch The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Even if her character is single handedly setting feminism back 50 years, Stewart is always great. Isla Fisher is a delight in most films she is in, but Confessions of a Shopaholic is a god awful movie, that she makes at least bearable. Amy Adams is as good as ever in Sunshine Cleaning even if the film itself is yet another quirky indie dramedy that is ultimately pointless. Newcomer Emily Browning navigates a difficult role in The Uninvited, a film that never really comes together to work as a whole, but which Browning makes interesting.

Worst Supporting Actor: Richard Gere is usually such a bland actor that the worst thing you can say about him is that he is forgettable. If only I could forget his performance in Amelia, where I think he has literally no idea who is character is, or what he is supposed to be. This performance made be long for the days of The Jackal and Red Corner.
Runners-Up: Does Ewan McGregor even know that his character is American in Amelia, a performance that didn’t get the top spot from his co-star because he is in the movie far less often? Taylor Laughtner has great abs in The Twilight Saga: New Moon but no discernible acting talent. Bradley Cooper had a breakout year with The Hangover, so I would forgive him one bad performance, but considering his work in He’s Just Not That Night Into You and All About Steve, I cannot help but mention him here.

Worst Supporting Actor in a Good Movie: Would you believe that Shia LaBeaof’s worst work this year was not in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but rather in the omnibus movie New York, I Love You an overall entertaining little movie. But LaBeof’s performance as a Russian immigrant, hunch backed bellhop speaking with a terrible accent is awful. I hate this performance, and this segment, in this overall good movie.
Runners-Up: Notorious was full of great performances of real people - especially Jamal Woolard as the Notorious BIG and Naturi Naughton as Lil’ Kim, but Derek Luke simply cannot pull off his performance as Puff Daddy. It’s not Matthew Goode’s fault he is a decade or two too young for his role in the landmark comic book movie Watchmen, but it is his fault that he seems to have no idea who his character really is.

Best Supporting Actor in a Bad Movie: It really is too bad that The Other Man tries to pull a fast on over on the audience, because Antonio Banderas’ performance as the other man in question is his best cinematic acting of his career.
Runners-Up: Timothy Olyphant keeps the audience guessing all throughout the otherwise forgettable thriller A Perfect Getaway. Bill Murray is the representation of all that is evil in Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control a film that never comes together and is quite boring at points, but Murray is unforgettable. Armin Mueller-Stahll has an amazing scene in the otherwise forgettable thriller The International - he even seems to wake up Clive Owen who otherwise sleepwalks through the film. Frank Langella ranks among the creepiest movie villains of the year in The Box. Too bad director Richard Kelly decided to explain the entire plot, taking away all the mystery of the film.

Worst Supporting Actress: I know most people liked Taken a hell of a lot more than I did, but tell me there weren’t a few moments when you were hoping that the bad guys would put in a bullet in Maggie Grace’s head if for no other reason than to stop her constant whining.
Runners-Up: Amanda Peet has never really followed through on her early promise, but she has never been as bad as she was in 2012. While she remains the gorgeous girl she always has been Camilla Belle keeps delivering bad performances, this year in Push. Lacey Chabert has one note, and it got tired more than a decade ago, so her performance in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past annoyed me to no end.

Worst Supporting Actress in a Good Movie: I hate to say this, but gorgeous, talented Canadian Rachel McAdams seems completely and totally lost in Sherlock Holmes. She sure does look good in those costumes though.
Runners-Up: I have not heard a worse Irish accent than Rose McGowan’s in the otherwise engrossing thriller 50 Dead Men Walking. A woman with a gun is supposed to be sexy, but McGowan sounds so ridiculous that she isn’t. Malin Akerman was a firecracker in the otherwise horrible remake of The Heartbreak Kid a few years ago, but since then she has been bland and boring in nearly ever performance. This year, she was way too young for her role in the wonderful Watchmen, but she looked great in those costumes - and out of them as well.

Best Supporting Actress in a Bad Movie: I never quite got the appeal of Sunshine Cleaning, but Emily Blunt as the younger, moodier sister is as wonderful and sexy as always. The film goes nowhere, but when she is on screen, I didn’t care.
Runners-Up: The only reason to watch the otherwise awful movie Push is to see Dakota Fanning’s excellent performance. Amy Adams is spunky and unforgettable as Amelia Earhart (two things Hilary Swank was not) in Night at the Museum: Battle at the Smithsonian which isn’t even as good as its mediocre predecessor. Emma Roberts is excellent as a sexually curious flirt in the indie dramedy Lymelife which is otherwise forgettable. Elizabeth Banks proves that there is nothing she cannot do as the woman who keeps us guessing in The Uninvited, a poor thriller almost rescued by the performances.

2009 Year in Review: The Worst Movies of the Year

Even when I try to cut down on the number of terrible movies I see in a given year, I seem to still see too many. Sometimes it’s a simple case of boredom, sometimes it’s because my wife wanted to see it, and something I just didn’t think the movie would be as bad as it was when I walked into the theater. Below is the list of the worst films of the year, with a list of dishonorable mentions as well. Angels and Demons (Ron Howard), The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day (Troy Duffy), Confessions of a Shopaholic (PJ Hogan), Couples Retreat (Peter Billingsley), Crossing Over (Wayne Kramer), Deadgirl (Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Hadrel), Did You Hear About the Morgans? (Marc Lawrence), Fired Up (Will Gluck), Gamer (Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor), Land of the Lost (Brad Silberling), Law Abiding Citizen (F. Gary Gray), Push (Paul McGuigan), Taking Woodstock (Ang Lee), The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Chris Weitz). And now, onto the worst of the year.

10. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (Mark Waters)
Matthew McConaghey is one of the most vacuous and empty actors in the world. He has occasionally flashes of an actual actor, but for every one of those movies, we seem to get 10 films like Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, a pathetic romantic comedy that takes the form of A Christmas Carol, with McConaghey playing a womanizer who finally sees what an idiot he is. This painfully unfunny comedy, Jennifer Garner, Lacey Chabert, Michael Douglas and Breckin Meyer are all quite bad as well, would be higher (lower?) on the list if not for the presence of Emma Stone, who still looks adorable even in bad ‘80s hair and braces. A bad year for romantic comedies and this is one of the worst.

9. He’s Just Not That Into You (Ken Kwapis)
This movie is a series of inane, annoying stories about inane, annoying characters that spend most of the movie whining about their failed relationships. How can a movie featuring Jennifer Connelly, Ginnifer Goodwin, Drew Barrymore, Bradley Cooper, Ben Affleck, Justin Long, Jennifer Aniston and Scarlett Johansson among others be this bad? Easy. Give them nothing interesting to say or do. This is the most obvious, most annoying chick flick in recent memory.

8. Amelia (Mira Nair)
Amelia Earhart was a fascinating woman, yet Mira Nair’s biopic about her is as dull as dishwasher. Hilary Swank is annoying and one note, with her Southern Accent and her boy’s haircut, as Earhart, who based on the evidence in this movie apparently didn’t really do all that much. Worse then her is both Richard Gere, as her adoring, dullard of a husband and Ewan McGregor as her lover. The film just sits there on screen and does absolutely nothing. Nair is a gifted filmmaker, but she had no idea how to make this movie.

7. Transformers: Rise of the Fallen (Michael Bay)
The original Transformers is a guilty pleasure movie, but this sequel was nearly unwatchable. Bay’s direction is more chaotic and incomprehensible - during the action sequences I could barely tell who was who. The screenplay was stupid and made almost no sense. Shia LaBeouf sleepwalks through his role. The special effects are fine, but they serve no purpose. The only thing good about the movie is Megan Fox running in slow motion, which to be fair does represent about 95% of her screen time. Awful.

6. The Unborn (David S. Goyer)
David S. Goyer should not be able to direct movies. As a writer, he co-wrote Dark City, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. As a director, he is responsible for Blade Trinity, the worst of the Blade series, The Invisable, a pathetic little teen horror film, and now The Unborn a terrible horror film about a teenage girl (a Megan Fox look-a-like who we will probably never see again) who is being haunted by her evil teen who died in the womb. I did appreciate the act that instead of bringing in a priest to perform an exorcism, they bring in a rabbi (Gary Oldman), but this is an uninteresting, unscary horror movie that I have effectively blocked from my memory.

5. Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (Patrick Tatopoulus)
It’s not like either of the first two Underworld movies were masterpieces. To be honest, watching Kate Beckinsale walk around in skintight leather was really the only thing those movies had going for them. But this movie is way worse than those ones - and not just because Beckinsale isn’t in the movie. The film is horribly written, and the performances don’t do anything to make the film more bearable (even Michael Sheen as a werewolf is utterly awful). The action sequences are awful, but not nearly as painful as the scenes where the characters actually talk to each other. This film is better left forgotten.

4. The Fourth Kind (Olatunde Osunsanmi)
This utterly terrible, incomprehensible and downright stupid alien movie is incompetently written, directed and acted. Debut filmmaker Osunsanmi tries to pull a fast one on the audience by telling us that this is based on a true story, when we can all tell that it is bogus. It wouldn’t be a big deal if the film worked in any conceivable way, but it doesn’t. It’s just headache inducing.

3. Year One (Harold Ramis)
Harold Ramis has written and directed some of the best comedies of the last few decades - Stripes, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, and his most recent film before this was the criminally underrated The Ice Harvest. But Year One is one of the unfunniest pieces of garbage I have seen in recent years. Great comedic talents Jack Black and Michael Cera play cavemen who leave their tribe and go on a journey through ancient times, running into characters from the bible and every other ancient civilization imaginable. It takes real talent to make a movie this bad.

2. All About Steve (Phil Traill)
Sandra Bullock had a career year in 2009, with The Proposal and The Blind Side both making a ton of money, not to mention her being on the verge of an Oscar nomination. I’m sure she would want to forget all about this absolute stinker. Bullock plays a delusional stalker who follows her blind date all over America in an attempt to seduce him. That she is not portrayed as a nutcase, but rather a sympathetic romcom heroine in unbelievable. You cannot believe just how awful this film is.

1. Crank 2: High Voltage (Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor)
Action movies are rarely this chaotic, incompetent, sexist and downright awful then this sequel to the original that topped this same list a few years ago. Neveldine and Taylor still have no idea how to direct a sequence - the cinematography and editing make Michael Bay seem restrained. Crank 2 has Jason Statham running around LA trying to keep his artificial heart charged enough until he can get his real heart back. In the course of the movie, he gets into multiple gun fights, fist fights and even fucks his girlfriend (Amy Smart) is front of a rowdy crowd at a rodeo. This movie is offensive, poorly made garbage.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

2009 in Year: My Personal Oscar Ballott (If I had One)

If they gave me as Oscar ballot (and really they should, since according to many reports, most Academy members don't even completely fill theirs out - proving that many Academy either don't watch a lot of movies, or just plain don't like movies), this is what it would look like.

Best Picture
1. Inglorious Basterds
2. A Serious Man
3. The White Ribbon
4. Where the Wild Things Are
5. The Hurt Locker
6. Up
7. Fantastic Mr. Fox
8. Antichrist
9. District 9
10. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans

I’ve said my piece about these films already, but what I will say is that I love how diverse these films were. A extremely violent, entertaining WWII alternate historical farce, an hilarious exploration of religion and morals, a black and white German study on the roots of terrorism, an adaptation of a beloved children’s book that is really an exploration of a child’s mind, a jittery and intense war movie, a heart warming animated adventure, an auteur taking animation to a new place, a Danish master’s exploration of his depression, a supremely entertaining sci-fi epic and a German nut job teaming up with an American nut job and going to places they’ve never been before. I’ve said all year that in order the Academy’s experiment with 10 nominees to gain traction, they need to reach beyond their normal boundaries to find nominees – if they picked my 10, they certainly would be doing that.

1. Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds
2. Joel & Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
3. Michael Haneke, The White Ribbon
4. Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
5. Spike Jonze, Where the Wild Things Are

All five of these directors (well six, if you count the Coens twice) pushed themselves beyond their normal limits this year. I think that Tarantino, Bigelow and Jonze did the best work of their career this year, and Haneke and the Coens come very close to matching their best efforts.

Best Actor
1. Nicolas Cage, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans
2. Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man
3. Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
4. George Clooney, Up in the Air
5. Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

Again, I like how varied these nominees are. Cage goes wildly over the top in my number one choice, but Stuhlbarg is remarkably restrained and subtle in the number two position. Renner finally breaks through and delivers a tremendous performance that is at its best when he isn’t saying a word. Clooney is in full movie star mode and delivers the finest performance of his career. Finally, Bridges plays off his own image somewhat, but still delves deeper than he has in a while. Five great actors in five great performances.

Best Actress
1. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Antichrist
2. Cary Mulligan, An Education
3. Tilda Swinton, Julia
4. Ok-vin Kim, Thirst
5. Alison Lohman, Drag Me to Hell

Other than Mulligan, I expect my list to look completely different from the Oscar list this year. It’s too bad that Gainsbourg’s fearless performance is going to be overlooked, just as it’s a shame that no one even bothered to watch the great work by Swinton in Julia (she was great in her Oscar winning role in Michael Clayton, but it pales by comparison to this one). Ok-vin Kim has genre bias AND foreign basis working against her, not to mention that they like gorgeous women to look ugly to win Oscars. Finally, I find it sad that just because Lohman is in a horror film, that everyone overlooked just how brilliant she was in it. Oh well, go Carey for the Oscar!

Best Supporting Actor
1. Christophe Waltz in Inglorious Basterds
2. Peter Capaldi, In the Loop
3. Fred Melamed, A Serious Man
4. Woody Harrellson, The Messenger
5. Christian McKay, Me & Orson Welles

What strikes me most about this line-up is how four of my nominees dominate their respective movies. Waltz’s affable, evil Nazi is impossible to look away from every time he’s on screen – and the same could be said for Capaldi’s spin doctor and McKay’s Orson Welles. Woody Harrellson has far less screen time in The Messenger than Ben Foster, but I think he says a hell of a lot more – he cannot bare the silence. Only Melamed has a traditional “character” role in his film – a few brilliant scenes that refuse to leave your memory.

Best Supporting Actress
1. Melanie Laurent, Inglorious Basterds
2. Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
3. Mo’Nique, Precious
4. Marion Cotillard, Public Enemies
5. Samantha Morton, The Messenger

With the exception of Mo’Nique, who gets a spot on this list for her swirling dervish of a performance as a monster, the other four nominees here all strike me as being remarkable sexual – yet remarkably different from each other this year. Laurent is a flirt and tease, when she needs to be, and when she gets dressed up to kill some Nazis, she is a knock out. Kendrick is a more wholesome, innocent and na├»ve young woman, but one who we sense is repressing more than she shows. Cotillard is overtly sexually attracted to Johnny Depp’s Dillinger, and those marvelous eyes dare you look away. And finally, Samantha Morton is a woman rediscovering her sexuality, and feeling guilty about it. Really a great line-up.

Best Original Screenplay
1. Inglorious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino
2. A Serious Man – Joel & Ethan Coen
3. The White Ribbon – Michael Haneke
4. Up – Bob Peterson
5. The Hurt Lockers – Mark Boal

Tarantino wins this won for me for the sheer audacity of the screenplay, and the way he wrties dialogue – each and every “chapter” is perfectly constructed, and that started here. The Coen’s leave their normal icy detachment from their characters behind them, and truly delve deep in the moral underpinnings of the world they created. Great work. The White Ribbon feels like it is based on a dense, classic novel, but that is all Haneke. Up keeps things moving at a remarkable pace, and creates some of the most lovable characters of the year. Finally, even if The Hurt Locker is mainly Bigelow’s triumph, Boal’s screenplay is still incisive, honest and wonderfully structured.

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. Where the Wild Things Are – Spike Jonze & David Eggars
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach
3. In the Loop – Armando Ianucci et. al
4. Up in the Air – Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner
5. District 9 – Neil Bloomkamp & Terri Thatchell

Where the Wild Things Are gets my vote because it is a perfect example of a screenplay that is faithful to the source material, yet still molds the story and its themes to the themes important by the director. Anyone familiar with the Maurice Sedak book will see it in the movie, but Jonze and Eggars deepen it. Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach do the same thing with Rolad Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, deepening it, and making it suit Anderson’s very particular style. As I have never seen the BBC series, The Thick of It, I have no idea how faithful the script for In the Loop is, but with writing that witty, profane and sharp, I don’t care. Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner do a great job turning Walter Kirn’s cynical novel into a movie - jettisoning everything that wouldn’t work on screen, and making the relationships are deeper and more meaningful. Finally, Blomkamp and Thatchell do a great job adapting their own great short film, into a feature.

Best Documentary
1. The Cove
2. Collapse
3. Tyson
4. Burma VJ
5. Food Inc.

I’ll be a top ten list for documentaries of 2009 next week, so I’ll keep this brief. The Cove is the best of a weak group of docs this year - a thrilling, intense movie about what goes in a remote cove in Japan - mainly a slaughter of dolphins. The film is heartbreaking. Chris Smith’s Collapse focusing on one man and his doom saying - convinced that the whole system is going to crash, so we better prepare. He seems less nutty than the doomsayers on Fox News, and the film is fascinating, even if like me, you’re not convinced. James Toback’s Tyson is a fascinating interview with Mike Tyson. You may come out hating him just as much as as before, but this is a one time chance to hear his version of events. Burma VJ is a fascinating documentary about what the videographers went through in 2007 to document the historic protests and then smuggling the footage out so the world can see what is happening. Food, Inc. is the type of movie that if you know about the issue going in - the corporatization of agriculture - you probably won’t learn much, but it is still a fascinating little film.

Best Animated Film
1. Up
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox
3. Coraline
4. The Princess and the Frog
5. Ponyo

Again, a full top ten list for animated films is coming, but for now, let’s have a quick recap. Up is one of Pixar’s best movies, a heartfelt, exciting adventure, amazingly well animated and proves that Pixar is still the best at animation. Wes Anderson finally got to make the film he wanted to make in Fantastic Mr. Fox, a wonderfully animated “family” film. Henry Selick made his best film since Nightmare Before Christmas with the creepy, delightful Coraline. The Princess and the Frog proves that Disney should continue to make classically animated film. Finally, although it is one of his weaker efforts, Hayao Miyzaki’s Ponyo is still wonderful.

Best Foreign Language Film
1. The White Ribbon - Germany
2. Tokyo Sonata - Japan
3. Police, Adjective - Romania
4. Il Divo - Italy
5. The Headless Woman - Argentina

Yes, there will be a top ten list for these as well. And for the record, A Prophet should get nominated for the award, as it is a masterpiece, but since it won’t be released until 2010 here, I didn’t count it. The film that should win though is Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, a great, black and white study on the roots of terrorism. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata is as timely and brilliant as anything else released this year. Romania’s Police Adjective is a brilliant black comedy, and a study on the country as whole that ends, I kid you not, with a thrilling scene involving reading out of the dictionary. The Italian film Il Divo redefines the political biopic for the modern, corrupt age. Finally, from Argentina, comes The Headless Woman a complex examination of a male oriented society and how they treat women. Five great films.

Best Cinematography
1. The White Ribbon – Christian Berger
2. Antichrist – Anthony Dod Mantle
3. Inglorious Basterds – Robert Richardson
4. A Serious Man - Roger Deakins
5. The Hurt Locker – Barry Ackroyd

There were a lot of great looking films this year. Perhaps because I am a sucker for black and white films, I found Christian Berger’s work on The White Ribbon to be the best - so many memorable shots and images there (I particularly love the sequence when the little boy comes downstairs and wanders around in the dark before discovering something he shouldn’t). It’s a good thing that Anthony Dod Mantle won an Oscar last year for Slumdog Millionaire, because even though his work on Antichrist is astonishing (the opening sex sequence alone is outstanding, not to mention the rest which is full of striking imagery) it isn’t coming close to the Oscar this year. Robert Richardson is one of the great DP’s in cinema history, and he gives Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds five different chapters’ distinct looks and feels, and lots of great images (none better then the closing fire with its camera caressing the gorgeous Melanie Laurent. Roger Deakins continues to be the Coen’s MVP behind the camera, giving A Serious Man one of the best looks of the year (that opening sequence is masterful, but then again, so is everything else). Finally Barry Ackroyd helped to build the suspense and paranoia in The Hurt Locker - the jittery camera work being one of the highlights of the film.

1. The Hurt Locker
2. Inglorious Basterds
3. District 9
4. A Serious Man
5. Where the Wild Things Are

The editing of The Hurt Locker is one of the key ingredients to the success of the movie - rapidly cutting in the action sequences, but slowing it down when necessarily. It is easily the best of the year. The editing of Inglorious Basterds was also excellent - keeping the story moving at a breakneck pace for 2 and half hours. The work in District 9 is brilliant - the documentary style in the first half is brilliantly paced, and the action sequences at the end move at a wonderful fast, intense pace. The Coens cut together their A Serious Man in a style that draws us in deeper and deeper into their moral puzzle. And finally, the editing of Where the Wild Things Are is key to getting inside Max’s headspace. Great work by all.

1. Up – Michael Giacchino
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Alexandre Desplat
3. Where the Wild Things Are – Carter Burwell & Karen O
4. A Serious Man – Carter Burwell
5. Avatar –James Horner

Michael Giacchino’s Score for Up was far and away the best movie music written this year. It is alternately sad and thrilling, and soars as to new heights for this great composer. Alexandre Desplat has become perhaps my favorite movie composer right now - and his work on Fantastic Mr. Fox is wonderfully goofy, funny and at points rather tender. I know that the Oscar disqualified the work of Carter Burwell and Karen O on Where the Wild Things Are (idiots), but there were few scores as memorable, and as pivotal to setting the mood, as this was. Speaking of Burwell, isn’t it about time he got recognized for his work with the Coens? His score for A Serious Man subtlety underlines the emotions in the movie without ever becoming overbearing. Finally, you have to admit that when it comes to blockbuster action scores, now that John Williams has effectively retired, that no one is better than James Horner. His work on Avatar is slowly becoming iconic - and deserves to be.

1. Crazy Heart - The Weary Kind
2. Nine - Take it All
3. Where the Wild Things Are - Hideaway
4. Where the Wild Things Are – All is Love
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Petey’s Song

Ryan Bingham and T. Bone Burnett’s The Weary King is easily the best song of the year - sad, touching, catchy sung with soul and pain and completely integral to the movie itself. Absolutely brilliant. Marion Cottilard’s singing of Take It All from Nine makes it truly memorable - a burlesque inspired number full of pain and passion - the best song in the film. I loved the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and two of the songs that lead singer Karen O wrote for Where the Wild Things Are were brilliant - Hideaway was soft, slow and soulful, whereas All is Love is a creepy kid’s song brilliantly written and performed. Finally, one of my favorite moments in Fantastic Mr. Fox was Jarvis Cocker’s Petey singing his strange song about the three bad farmers, which just comes out as a brilliant stream of consciousness. If it gets nominated for an Oscar, they need to invite Michael Gambon on stage to flick a cigarette at Cocker and say “That’s just bad writing”.

Art Direction
1. Inglorious Basterds
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox
3. A Serious Man
4. District 9
5. Public Enemies

The art direction of Inglorious Basterds is clearly the best of the year. Each setting for the five chapters is brilliantly well realized - the dilapidated cottage, the room with Churchill, the underground bar and of course that movie theater at the end. Truly great. Just because Fantastic Mr. Fox was animated, doesn’t mean that the work wasn’t great. The tree, the underground layer, the sewers, all of it is as brilliantly well realized as anything Anderson has done. The Coens are always meticulous with their art direction, and the work on A Serious Man does a wonderful job of recreating 1967 Minnesota. District 9 created a South Africa that was both a realistic recreation of the shanty towns of old, and a great science fiction setting. Finally, the work on Public Enemies places us right back in depression era America - the banks, the jails, everything just about perfect.

Costume Design
1. Where the Wild Things Are
2. Inglorious Basterds
3. Public Enemies
4. A Serious Man
5. Nine

The work on Where the Wild Things Are is brilliant - the costumes of the Wild Things themselves are the reason this is the best work of the year, but the costumes for Max and the rest of the “humans” is also exceptional. Inglorious Basterds contains great work - Nazi uniforms, glamorous movie stars and the rest, all pretty much perfect. Public Enemies is all dapper suits and ties for the men, and the gorgeous dresses for Cottilard are all old school Hollywood glamour. A Serious Man is less glamorous then the other nominees, but helps to set the mood perfect for their period film. Finally, all those outfits for the beautiful women in Nine are sexy, flowing and wondrous. Great work on a film that was slightly disappointing.

Sound Mixing
1. District 9
2. The Hurt Locker
3. Avatar
4. Inglorious Basterds
5. The Lovely Bones

The sound design on District 9 was one the best things about it – from the opening chaos of the scenes where they try to move the aliens out, to the final action sequences, the entire movie is a marvel of sounds. The Hurt Locker uses the entire arsenal of sound tricks to help elevate the suspense to great levels. Avatar is a wonder of sounds all around you – a reminder that the film is a massive achievement in more than just special effects. The sound on Inglorious Basterds, from all those conversations to the shooting to the music, to that ever tapping bat of Eli Roth’s is wonderful. And finally, the sound work on Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones is haunting on a number of levels – that creaky floorboard alone was brilliant.

Sound Editing
1. District 9
2. Avatar
3. The Hurt Locker
4. Up
5. Star Trek

All of that alien technology is District 9 gives the sound editors many chances to create new and exciting sounds. Avatar offers similar opportunities, throwing in some strange animals. The Hurt Locker’s bombs and gun shots, along with everything else, are crucial to their success. The work on Up is less complex than on previous Pixar movies like Wall-E, but no less brilliant. Finally, the work on Star Trek is wonderful.

1. District 9
2. Inglorious Basterds
3. Star Trek

Sharlto Copley gets the most benefit of the makeup, as he slowly turns from human to alien – yes some of it was CGI, but the makeup work was also great. Inglorious Basterds uses makeup in every scene, to memorable effect – those swastikas craved into the heads of Nazis only a tip of the iceberg. Finally, Star Trek continues to use makeup to recreate many of your favorite characters of old.

Visual Effects
1. Avatar
2. District 9
3. Where the Wild Things Are

There really is no contents here, as Avatar’s visual effects raise the bar for every film that is going to come after it. District 9 had some more realistic special effects that I admired a great deal as well. And finally, Where the Wild Things Are would not be nearly as good if the CGI had not been able to make the faces of the Wild Things as expressive as they are.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

2009 Year in Review: Best Supporting Actress

Probably the weakest of all the acting categories this year, and yet the 10 performances listed below are wonderful. Like with the actress category, most of the actresses below are European born, so let’s hope next year that American actresses have a better 2010.

10. Maria Victora Dargus in The White Ribbon
The cast of Haneke’s The White Ribbon is so large, and all are so great, so it’s a shame to single out just one actress from the great cast. However, as Klara, the Pastor’s oldest daughter, Dargus makes the biggest impact of any of the children in the movie. Seemingly scared of her overbearing, strict father in the beginning of the movie, she takes her punishment for being late, and later, when he humiliates her in front of her schoolmates, she faints. Yet, Klara is a more complex character then she at first appears. But Klara is not as innocent as the film implies or her good looks at first suggest, and the performance is anything but simple. How about that moment when she eyes her father’s bird - the same bird that will be found crucified the next scene. This is one of the best performances in a film full of them.

9. Rosamund Pike in An Education
Rosamund Pike is gloriously dimwitted in this movie. Pike is an actress who normally exudes intelligence, but here she somehow appears as if there is not a thought running through her pretty little head. Her eyes are either vacant, or else she looks completely confused. She is the source of much comic relief in the film, and yet there is also a subtle kindness to her performance as she reaches out towards Jenny. Pike is a great, underrated actress, and this is her finest performance.

8. Diane Kruger in Inglorious Basterds
German born Kruger has struggled to find any decent roles in Hollywood - making one crappy National Treasure movie after another. But as always, Tarantino showed a sixth sense about acting talent when he cast her as the German movie star, and double agent, in his alternate history epic. She looks gorgeous, all glammed up in that basement , and then at the movie premiere. She is charming, as she at first wins over the German soldiers, then tries in vein to talk her way out of the trap she is in. She is a classic Tarantino women - tough, sexy, smart with some great dialogue. Hopefully this is a start of a better career for her in American movies.

7. Marion Cottilard in Nine
Nine is a movie where almost all of the pleasures are on the surface level. The one exception is Cotillard’s brilliant performance as Daniel Day-Lewis’ long suffering wife. Her first song, “My Husband Makes Movies” is sad, and touching as she talks about how much she has sacrificed in order to support her husband. But her real shining moment is a new song written specifically for the movie - “Take it All”, a raunchy, burlesque number where she finally leaves Day-Lewis. Cottilard is gorgeous, has the best singing voice in the film, and the best eyes in show business, and she uses it all to her advantage. Cottilard is the one person in this movie that I can praise without pause. A brilliant performance.

6. Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air
In Up in the Air, Vera Farmiga is finally getting the sort of attention she has deserved for a few years now. She plays a road warrior – the female equivalent of Clooney’s character – who spends most of her time travelling, and likes easy relationships full of fun and sex. She seems bright and cheerful for much of the film, but there is a real person ticking away inside of her character – her final scene is emotionally devastating, and we find out that we have been wrong about this character all along. A great performance by a great actress.

5. Samantha Morton in The Messenger
Samantha Morton has the most difficult role in Oren Moverman’s The Messenger. She plays the wife of a soldier killed in Iraq, but unlike the other family members of the fallen, she seems at peace with her husband’s death. She doesn’t lash out in pain or grief or anger when she is notified, but instead remarks on what a tough job these men must have telling people their loved ones are dead. Her reaction haunts Foster’s character, and the audience. She risks losing our sympathy by starting a slow romantic relationship with Foster, but somehow she makes it feel real and natural. In her mind, her husband died when he went to Iraq, because he came back the first time another person. Without an actress of Morton’s caliber in this role, it could have come off as unbelievable or worse, but Morton builds the character from the ground up. A remarkable turn by one of the best actresses in the world.

4. Marion Cottillard in Public Enemies
Cottilard had a great year (she's the only one with two performances mentioned), with this film and Nine. Normally the women in the films of Michael Mann are there as simple eye candy, but Cottilard is so much more in Public Enemies - she is actually the emotional heart of the movie. As the woman who falls in love with John Dillinger, Cottilard uses her eyes - the best in show business - to show her great emotional journey. I’m not there is a more emotional scene in any action movie this year than her concluding sequence when she learns of Dillinger’s death. I was not a huge fan of Cottilard’s Oscar winning performance of La Vie En Rose, but if it allows her to continue to make movies this good, I’m glad for it nonetheless.

3. Mo’Nique in Precious
Some performances come out of nowhere and knock you flat. Mo’Nique’s turn as the foul mouthed, abusive mother in Precious is one of those performance. She plays a woman more concerned with her welfare cheques than she is with her own daughter. She is a constant string of insults hurled at her daughter, who over years, she has convinced Precious that she is a worthless, fat piece of trash. This is an uncompromising, unflinching performance of the year, unafraid to look at a woman that seems like a stereotype at first, but gradually reveals the real person underneath. Her first scene in the film is a knockout of expletitives hurled with venom and hate at her daughter. This scene is only outdone by her final scene, where she finally admits the abuse that happened, and the reasons behind it. I am not sure if Mo’Nique will ever do as good as she again as she does here, but this is performance will remembered for years to come.

2. Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air
When I saw Anna Kendrick in the indie film Rocket Science a few years ago, I fell in love. With Up in the Air, everyone else gets a chance to do so. She is brilliant as a young woman and recent University graduate who believes she knows the best way to overhaul her new company. While out on the road with George Clooney, she has her eyes opened wide to the realities of the business world, and the personal sacrifices she will be expected to make. She is sweet and lovable in the film, and drives Clooney to see life in a new way. This is Kendrick’s coming out party, and her performance is a marvel.

1. Melanie Laurent in Inglorious Basterds
Melanie Laurent is one of the secret weapons of Tarantino’s masterpiece. Her opening scene, she is covered in blood and running away from her would be murderer. When we see her again, she has remade herself into a successful movie theater owner, fending off the advances of a Nazi war hero. She is stunningly beautiful in her scenes where she is dealing with the Nazi, a bundle of nerves as she comes face to face with Landa, who may know her secret, and incredibly sexy as she prepares for her big night. Her most memorable moment though is on the big screen as she cackles at the Nazis that she is about to kill. The close-up there is her best moment, and the moment that makes the movie hit as hard as it does. A brilliant, under appreciated performance.