Archive for February, 2011

Oscars Predictions and Picks!

Posted: February 27, 2011 in movie reviews

Time for Film Mafia’s Predictions, Picks, and Comment on the 2010-2011 Oscars…

BEST PICTURE:

It will be THE KING’S SPEECH. It should be BLACK SWAN, for a bold and original vision. The upset could be THE SOCIAL NETWORK, which is brilliant, and better than THE KING’S SPEECH, but less purely amazing than BLACK SWAN.

BEST DIRECTOR:

David Fincher will win for THE SOCIAL NETWORK and deserves it. A perfect movie for everyone – and innovative in theme, performance, style and execution.

BEST CINAMATOGRAPHY:

Roger Deakins will win for TRUE GRIT as a “career” award. Wally Pfister should win for INCEPTION or Matther Libatique should win for BLACK SWAN.

BEST ACTRESS:

Natalie Portman will win for BLACK SWAN and deserves it. Annette Bening may win for THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT but that would be an insider’s award – and stupid.

BEST ACTOR:

Colin Firth. That’s done and dusted. And he deserves it.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

It will go to Christian Bale for THE FIGHTER, and it should. Geoffrey Rush is an outside chance for THE KING’S SPEECH, but, like a metaphor for that movie, we know he can do what he did in that film. His performance is flawless, but not surprising. Bale’s performance is breathtaking.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

The hardest of the major awards to predict. I like, and think will win, Melissa Leo in THE FIGHTER. But I will jump up and down on the couch like Tom Cruise on Oprah should Hailee Stainfeld win for TRUE GRIT or Jacki Weaver win for ANIMAL KINGDOM, which, if it had been made in a non-English language, would win Best Foreign Language Film.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:

See “Best Actor”, but just replace “Colin Firth” with “Toy Story 3”.

BEST ART DIRECTION:

INCEPTION. C’mon!

BEST COSTUME DESIGN:

THE KING’S SPEECH will win. Why? Who knows. It just will.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

In a brilliant filed, it all comes down to content versus style. In terms of content, it has to be INSIDE JOB. In terms of style (innovative use of film), it has to be EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP. I hope the latter wins – we are, in the end, voting on filmmaking – but I think it will be INSIDE JOB. A real flip of the coin here.

BEST EDITING:

BLACK SWAN should soooooo win this, but won’t. It’ll be THE SOCIAL NETWORK, and that’s fair enough. A difficult story told amazingly clearly, in three time frames.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

If Denmark’s IN A BETTER WORLD doesn’t win I’ll eat my hat. An incredible, moving film about the world and everyone in it, told through the microcosm of how men’s schoolyard fights lead all the way up to global conflict, and how bullying is the root of all evil. A masterpiece. I’m putting money on this one.

MAKEUP:

Will THE WOLFMAN win? I guess so. It should be THE WAY BACK.

MUSIC:

I loved the score for THE SOCIAL NETWORK but my favourite score of the year was Hans Zimmers’ score for INCEPTION, and I’m actually following my heart – and putting my prediction – there.

ANIMATED SHORT FILM:

Aussie Aussie Aussie, oy oy oy! It’s gonna be Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann for THE LOST THING. Trust me. It’ll be Adam Elliot all over again. Can’t wait.

SOUND EDITING AND SOUND MIXING:

INCEPTION, both, lock.

VISUAL EFFECTS:

See above, “Sound Editing and Sound Mixing”.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

Aaron Sorkin will win for THE SOCIAL NETWORK and deserves it.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

David Seidler will win for THE KING’S SPEECH but Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin should win for BLACK SWAN – and they’re not even nominated.

I’m not including predictions for Best Live Action Short or Best Original Song as I have no real knowledge of the nominees.

My final prediction: James Franco and Anne Hathaway are going to be brilliant hosts and it’s gonna be the best Oscar ceremony in years, mainly because of them!

ENJOY THE OSCARS! COMMENT BELOW!

 

 

 

New Frontiers

Posted: February 22, 2011 in movie reviews

UNKNOWN **

 

A few years back, Liam Neeson took the lead role in a Europe-based revenge thriller called Taken (unseen by this reviewer) about a father looking for his kidnapped daughter. It seemed an odd choice for Neeson, who was first noticed in a Woody Allen film and has generally kept his head in the rarefied world of “A Grade” pictures, including, of course, Shindler’s List. But an odd thing happened – Taken was, if not so much critically, a massive financial success, in cinemas but also very strongly on DVD, and all of a sudden the tall Irishman with the husky voice has found himself, at the age of 58, an action hero. There is no real other reason for the existence of Unknown. Set in snowy Berlin (easily the most interesting aspects of the film are its locations), this thriller about a doctor, due to give a lecture at an international medical conference, who, after a taxi accident, seems to have had his identity stolen, feels redundant and old-hat, like a very expensive film-school project: “make a film in the style of Hitchcock”. We’ve seen  it all before – the best example being the first and second Bourne films: issues of identity and memory loss combined with wintry Euro-cations and breakneck car chases. In fact, the makers of the Bourne films would have every right to feel ripped off by this film, which borrows their template extensively. Neeson brings his normal grandeur and presence to an unfortunately annoyingly written role: the poor actor has to say “I’m doctor Martin Harris!” about fifty times before we reach the snowy credits. More devastatingly, January Jones (Betty in Mad Men) seems completely out of her depth here – it feels like her terrific work in that show was a fluke, because she is neither believable nor interesting in the (once again) extremely underwritten role of Harris’ wife. Only Diane Krueger, from Inglorious Bastards, makes a strong impression as the German taxi driver who must team up with Harris to help him figure out the truth (of course!). The twists aren’t predictable so much as banal; the music is completely forgettable and the whole enterprise feels like a chore, rather than a work of passion, for all involved. Neeson tragically lost his wife Natasha Richardson a few years ago to a freak skiing accident, and there’s no denying him the right to keep himself busy with undemanding material for awhile, but this material is so undemanding I cannot imagine anyone finding it genuinely thrilling.

 

NO STRINGS ATTACHED ** 1/2

 

Natalie Portman is a class act, and has been since she burst onto the screen and into the general filmgoing consiousness at the age of fourteen in The Professional opposite Jean Reno. Since then her choices have been exemplary – Heat for Michael Mann, Everyone Says I Love You for a still-in-his-prime Woody Allen, Cold Mountain for Anthony Minghella, Closer for Mike Nichols and of course her breathtaking, Oscar-nominated performance in the current release Black Swan (my favourite film of this Oscar year). She’s also delved into some big-budget claptrap (the three most recent Star Wars movies, which probably should have been avoided) but she has pretty much avoided the “big studio rom-com” – read: the one with all the clichés, the one that’s totally predictable, the mushy, crappy unfunny ones that seem to keep actresses like Drew Barrymore, Katherine Heigl and Jennifer Aniston in constant employment. No Strings Attached at first glimpse seems like a personal betrayal: her co-star, Ashton Kutcher, has no where near as “serious” a CV as Portman, and Ivan Reitman, her director here, is best known for massive studio chucklefests such as Ghostbusters, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Six Days Seven Nights, Junior, Dave, Kindergarten Cop, Twins, Stripes, Meatballs et al. As such he is a powerhouse of Hollywood moneymaking – one of the more successful directors, financially, in history – but not known for his subtlety – nor for romantic comedy. Looking beneath the surface, however, No Strings Attached – although hung on a slight premise – tries very hard to be smarter than your average rom-com. In fact, in its best moments it feels like a female-skewed Knocked Up – the characters feel kind of real, or at least as though they are responding to their given circumstances rather than responding to the whims of the screenwriter and the demands of the studio’s marketing department and focus group results. The cinematography is lush, subtle and rich – far more so than in your average Hollywood rom-com, which are seemingly designed to keep you awake with brightness on a Friday night – and the supporting characters – while certainly suffering from “rom-com quirky writing” – are played by actors who play up what truth there is to find in them rather than play up the quirk. As Emma, the girl afraid of relationships (the premise is really that simple), Portman is luminescent – if her intention in doing a studio rom-com was to prove she could do it better than anyone, she’s certainly achieved that here. She never hits a false note or beat, and there are moments when she comes up with such delightfully off-beat choices – sudden rushes of vocal or physical energy that make her tiny body jiggle with ecstasy – that your only possible hope as a viewer is to fall, deeply, in love with her. Unfortunately Ashton Kutcher as Adam, her romantic lead, just doesn’t have the same chops or likeability – or at least certainly doesn’t have them on display in this movie. To be fair, his character is written in only one key – he is meant to be perfect in every way (!) – but Kutcher seems trapped in mannerisms that belong in another movie – one that doesn’t take itself as seriously as this one. They’re unmatched actors, and it makes for an unmatched movie. Also, the last thirty-five minutes or so are painfully slow, unfunny, and unbelievably predictable – which is what the movie, so far, has been trying not to be, and thus this comes as a terrible disappointment and really contributes to a feeling of being ripped off, since things had started so promisingly. In intention, much of its acting, its smarter than average script, and in the care given to its visuals, for awhile No Strings Attached is much better than your average rom-com – until it almost becomes a homage to one, and tosses away its own integrity.

 

Men With Missions

Posted: February 15, 2011 in movie reviews

127 HOURS ***1/2

 

Danny Boyle’s bold picture about Aaron Ralston’s unique predicament in May 2003 – when he got trapped by a fallen boulder while canyoning in Utah and had to deploy a courageous and grim act to get himself out of it – is a rare beast: a feature-length experimental film. Confining himself for most of the film’s (shortish) running time to the thin slot canyon in which Ralston (James Franco) is trapped, Boyle is loading himself with certain filmic obstructions: besides the single location, we have a single character, who cannot move; beyond that, we have an audience who almost certainly not only knows the ending but knowingly dreads it. The result will not be for everyone – and the awe-inspiring feat of personal sacrifice Ralston pursued is not visually shied away from which will possibly upset some viewers – but it is a huge, brave piece of filmmaking by a director who challenges himself, and his audience, at every opportunity, backed up by a young actor giving an astonishing (and Oscar-nominated) performance.

 

THE NEXT THREE DAYS ***1/2

 

Russell Crowe makes films for adults, from screenplays that have been put through the wringer to ensure that they can withstand accusations of implausibility by nature of their sheer, dogged structural imperialism. This can be both a blessing and a curse, and so it is with this finely-detailed, authentic-looking and very well acted thriller directed (and written) by Paul Haggis. The central conceit is hard to take: a mild school teacher decides – and learns – to break his wife out of prison, where she is jailed for life for a murder she may or may not have committed. Rather than simply let us accept this premise and move on, the screenplay is obsessed with showing us every stage of the man’s emotional passage – his highs and lows – that could lead a regular and good person to such a bold and criminal act: it seems like it’s trying to prove that this could happen. In doing so, it will delight some and frustrate others: if you’re in for a good, long, complex and subtle thriller that revels more in the gaining of knowledge than the achievement of action goals, you’ll probably love it (and this was my stronger response); if you’re looking for Friday night action, you’ll almost certainly want to look elsewhere. The film looks, smells and feels extremely authentic, with sterling use of its Pittsburgh locations, and Crowe is, as usual, absolutely terrific, believable, and sympathetic – he remains one of the best screen actors in the business. Elizabeth Banks stretches into dramatic territory as his wife with great success.