2010 Put The Hurt On A Long List

2009 (awards handed out in 2010) saw the inevitable happen. The expansion of the best picture nominee list to a list of 10 including just the second animated film. The Hurt Locker took home top honors along with it’s director Kathryn Bigelow who was the ex-wife of fellow nominee James Cameron. The true competition was in the best actor category. Jeff Bridges was the nights sentimental favorite despite it being the BEST performance of his career in Crazy Heart. He was up against George Clooney in an out-of-the-park role in Up In The Air and Jeremy Renner from The Hurt Locker.

Let’s look at the remaining nominees beginning with James Cameron’s visually stunning Avatar. The story of workers mining for an extinct mineral on another planet was a huge success at the box office and is still the benchmark for 3D movies. The problem with Avatar was the story was weak at best and the acting felt almost phoned in. How it made it to this short list is beyond me.

Next was the heartwarming feel good movie of the year staring Oscar winner Sandra Bullock in, The Blind Side. The true story of a generous yet traditional southern family taking in a poor and homeless boy who soon discovers he has a talent for football and makes it all the way to the NFL thanks to their help and generosity.

Again we have a peculiar choice and it too hails from the sci-fi genre. The Peter Jackson produced District 9 is about a South African town that has quarantined their alien population due to the fact they infect humans and turn them into aliens. Shot in the pseudo documentary style it was a very smart script that was well made despite a movie that easily could have been horribly done in the wrong hands.

2009 brought the movie that Quentin Tarantino had been working on almost his whole career. Fans had heard stories of his writing the script on the set of Pulp Fiction. It was gonna be his opus and best work yet. Inglorious Basterds proved one thing, too much time may be a bad thing. While it was a good movie and had some classic Tarantino staples in it including great dialogue and acting, Christoph Waltz without question stole the movie. But as a whole movie it didn’t live up to it’s hype. It would have been better as come out of nowhere type.

Then of course comes the token British film, An education tells the story of a teenage girl and how a new playboy in town changes her life. The real jewel here is that America finally discovered Carey Mulligan and that a star was finally born.

The dark and even disturbing movie Precious based on the novel tells about a young, poor urban girl who’s abusive mother and mess of a home life drive her to better her life for her and the baby she is carrying due to the rape by her father. With a stunning a frightening performance by comedienne Monique proving again that sometimes comedians make the best actors.

Up was the first animated feature since Beauty And The Beast to be nominated for best picture. Though it’s animated it’s a very real and emotional story of a shy man whose love of his life passes away and he is determined to take the adventure he and his love were always supposed to take. Aided by the boy scout who accidentally get’s latched on for the ride he takes his journey and discovers that the life he had with her was better than any adventure they could have gone on.

George Clooney was back and so was Jason Reitman who had previously been the center of attention for directing Juno. This time he proved to be the master of what some have called “Dramedies”. Up In The Air is about Ryan Bingham, a man who fires people for a living and spends 270 days a year traveling for this horrible job. he likes the single serving life he lives and has no desire to form relationships and even gives speeches on how not to do so. That all changes when two women come into his life and he is forced to see his lifestyle for what it is and tries to change just before his new found philosophy comes crashing down.

The only movie of the year that was snubbed off the expanded nominee list was the Jeff Bridges wonderment of a movie Crazy Heart. The story of an old broken down, drunken country singer songwriter who falls in love before tearing it all down in an instant. He then goes on to prove it’s never too late for someone to make the best of their life.

So did the best picture win? In this case it’s very easy to make a case for Clooney’s Up In The Air, the animated love story Up and the life changing story of Crazy Heart. They are all equal films for what they are. After spending years in Iraq with nothing but controversy surrounding it, it was due time that a film would make us look differently at war and the soldiers who fight it. The Hurt Locker was the right movie at the right time therefore making it’s statement on Oscar night. It’s hard to argue against this movie since it’s so engrossing and intense on level not felt in quite some time.

In Time Quickly Runs Out

It’s no secret that there have been complaints for a while now that the originality in Hollywood story lines is dissipating and that the superhero genre and re-makes have been the prevailing way to go. Screenwriters are forced to adapt from other sources and very few original scripts are outstanding.

At first impression of the introduction of the latest Justin Timberlake movie, In Time you can’t help but notice that it’s concept is at the very least, intriguing. With Justin Timberlake taking on his first leading role, the focus without question would be on him after he wowed audiences with his supporting role as Napster founder Sean Parker in The Social Network. Let’s just get it out of the way, Justin Timberlake is not that bad of an actor. He has a natural quality to his acting and with experience and the right projects in his hands he could have a very respectable career in film.

The concept in this futuristic sci-fi thriller is that the currency of the future will be time not money. The time will be deducted from your own life. Each person is given 25 years at birth and uses that to pay bills, make purchases etc. Man is paid in time from their job and so on. After saving a man’s life one night he is unknowingly given 100 years and after not being unable to save his mother, he decides to use it for a cross country limousine ride and plans to live like a king for a night. While playing poker he meets a beautiful woman who stands to inherit millions and after a series of events they become some what of time Robin Hood’s. With such good potential from the man who brought us The Truman Show, it should also be noted that he directed Al Pacino in Simone. Writer Andrew Niccol no doubt has the ability to come up with great sci-fi ideas, they just come up very short on film. Whether it’s his direction or the descriptions in the script, Im not quite sure.

In Time is no different. It has a good idea and there are scenes that let you know the future is not polished and clean as is sometimes portrayed. It has more of a Bladerunner future look to it. Mind you, I am in no way comparing this movie to the iconic Bladerunner.

While this movie will probably entertain most, as far as a movie goes it falls well short of the mark of a good movie. It’s frustrating because of the elements it has to make it a good movie. With too many holes in the story and too much just unexplained one can’t help but ask more questions as the movie goes on and feel a very dissatisfied feeling at it’s conclusion. If you love sci-fi and/or B movies then you will most likely enjoy this one one. But if you are looking for a good heart pumping thriller chances are you will be disappointed.

Midnight In Paris Shows Woody’s Still Got It

Few careers have had the sustained respect and consistency as the guy who seems like he lives next door, Woody Allen. Every now and then he makes a movie where you think, “there it is, he’s done” but then comes along a Match Point or in this years case, Midnight In Paris. Woody has a wit and center of creativity that just doesn’t seem to run out and hopefully never does. His diverse collection of films has spanned all kinds of audiences and his brand of comedy, while it’s a love it or hate it type, is no doubt respected. This was no doubt a can’t miss to add to his collection it, like his other films isn’t for everyone.

Midnight in Paris is one of the great fantasy stories that’s been told in recent years with Owen Wilson as the movies lead, Gil who is a nostalgic screenwriter who is unhappy in current profession and wants to write a long lasting great novel. His in love with the city of Paris, especially in the rain. While his fiancé, Inez tends to think lowly of Gil and wishes to lead a superficial life. One night after dinner and drinks with friends that aren’t really Gil’s style, he goes for a walk and while taking a rest on some steps is approached by a vehicle straight out of the 1920’s and some very happy party goers encourage him to get in and join them. Being a little drunk he agrees and soon discovers the party he attends has an impressive guest list whom include his writing heroes F. Scott Fitzgerald and his companion Zelda along with Ernest Hemingway who introduces himself by asking if he is a boxing fan, as Hemingway had a notorious tough guy attitude. Hemingway introduces Gil to the very famous American poet and writer, Gertrude Stein who agrees to take a look at Gil’s novel. Subsequently the night comes to an end and Gil is eager to introduce Inez to his “new” friends. Not realizing that it’s the midnight hour that his ride approaches to take him to his dream era, Inez grows impatient and leaves shortly before his is picked up. This is the night he meets lovely Adriana who is apparently the muse to a one Pablo Picasso. Slowly falling in love with Adriana. As the story continues, Gil begins to see the distance growing between him and Inez and wishes to stay in what he believes is the golden era. He eventually sees that even those in such a great period long to be in a different era and that they are nostalgic for other times. He comes to the realization that he is best off living in the moment.

While Owen Wilson is not known for his great acting ability, Woody is known for getting nothing but the best out of his actors by letting them breath and infuse themselves in the character. Wilson becomes the lovable Gil and we begin to want nothing but the best for him. We want him to follow his dreams and be great.

Allen has a beautiful script and story that is relatable to all on some level and with his uncanny ability to find the beauty in every city it makes even those who have never been to paris, long to be in the city of lights.

While no one will ever confuse Midnight In Paris with the iconic Annie Hall, which is the peak of romantic comedies and the opus in a long line of work for Woody Allen, this is no doubt one of his films that will live on and in 3 to 4 years you will be talking to someone at a party and without question someone will bring it up. You will then have laughter and smiles come over those that love it and will here the words, “You just gotta see it”.

2009 Was A Milliondollar Year!

2008 (awards handed out in 2009) is one of my favorite years in recent memory for motion picture, but that’s just a personal opinion. It saw the loss of a great great talent prematurely and another walked away at his peak because of what he felt was the corruption of Hollywood. It had high spots too, including the ressurection of a one time monster of the cinema. With great movies a even better stories being told there was something for everyone that year.

Taking home the coveted best picture was Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, the heart warming story of a young man’s early life struggles and his desire to have a better life and find the girl he has always loved since he was a young boy. Set in the poverty stricken city of Mumbai, young Jamal is forced to remeber the highs and low’s of his unfortunate childhood while on the Indian version of the game show, Who Want’s To Be A Millionaire. With an ending that manages to be both triumphant and tragic at the same time it moved audiences of all kinds. Truly one of the high points of Danny Boyle’s career who had previously been somewhat of an indie icon. Was it the best picture? Well it had some fierce competition.

As it’s fellow nominees, Slumdog had to compete with the likes of another banner year for Sean Penn with his bio pic Milk and Kate Winslet who finally got her due recognition with a best actress statue for the powerful Holocaust drama, The Reader. Not to mention David Fincher re-teaming with Brad Pitt in an adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. Finally Ron Howard returned with thunder with the highly dramatic Frost/Nixon.

But what was left of the list may have been just as good or better! We almost saw  a superhero movie make the list of nominees with the most successful film of the year, Christopher Nolan’s follow up to his re-boot of the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight. No doubt Dark Knight was successful because everyone wanted to catch one last glimpse of the great Heath Ledger who passed away suddenly, shortly after filming. His depiction of The Joker will without question go down as one of the best and most terrifying villain roles and best all around acting performances in the history of cinema. Ledger would win the best supporting actor award posthumously to rousing applause from the audience.

While everyone honored and mourned Ledger that year they without question welcomed back one of the all time bad boys and former great talent and heart throb, Mickey Rourke showed everyone, he still has the talent. He would sadly lose to Sean Penn but The Wrestler is no doubt the feather in the cap of Rourke and will be a film and performance that will transcend time and generation for years to come.It was the moving and raw film from director Darren Arinofsky who made this gem on a show string budget and pulled out acting from it’s three principles not to soon be forgotten. With all due respect to Penn this was and should have been the crescendo to Rourke’s return.

Also left off the list was the incredibley real and well acted, Revolutionary Road. The story of a 1950’s couple struggling to live the life they believe they are expected to and the difficult decisions they are forced to make. This movie was billed as the reunion of DiCaprio and Winslet for the first time since Titanic but it was anything but. The arguing scenes felt so real they could make you almost feel uncomfortable for watching.

That brings us to the religious, controversial Doubt. Based on the play by John Patrick Shanley who rose to fame with his script Moonstruck in 1987. re-written and directed by Shanley powerhouses Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Viola Davis who made everyone turn and take notice for the first time. It was a movie that left you questioning how we judge other’s based on the sins of other’s. Hoffman and Streep showdown in memorable fashion that could even leave one jaw open.

So what was the best picture? Slumdog was a fine movie and no doubt worthy of it’s nomination but it may be a cas of outstanding campaigning on behalf of the studios.

With a low budget, no studio faith and almost no one backing it, The Wrestler had nobody but fans and critics to fight for what was one of the most surprising and moving movies of the year. It may have also been the sort of people who judged the movie before seeing that gave it no hope. This was no wrestling movie it was a story of the human spirit and no matter how much it wants to, it doesn’t always triumph.

I have no problem saying I believe The Wrestler was the best picture of the year but anyone could make a case for any of the fine, near perfect films which is why I prefaced this commentary by mentioning what a great year it was for film.

Give Sam Rockwell Credit!

Some years ago I remember having a conversation with a co-worker about who is/was the greatest guitarist ever. He was convinced that the best guitarist was some guy who non of us had ever met and who wasn’t and isn’t famous and never will be. I argued with him on this point but as time has gone by I believe he is right. I believe the same may be true for actors. The best actor is probably some man or woman doing small theater in a nowhere town who doesn’t have the confidence to try and make it big. That’s not to say there aren’t some outstanding working actors. It’s also fair to say that some actors, including famous ones don’t get their due justice.

The focus here is to bring awareness to people who do and do not know who Sam Rockwell is and just how underrated his acting is. In all fairness to Sam there have been unwise choices but the great ones outweigh those. There are times that he acts for the love of acting or even for the experience of who he may be working with or for the enjoyment of playing the character he’s encompassing.

Most people first caught a glimpse of Rockwell in the Tom Hanks movie The Green Mile as Wild Bill Wharton. That same year he was in the cult comedy Galaxy Quest as Guy Fleegman. A couple years later he would make a small appearance in Jon Favreau’s indie hit Made. It may have been a small role but it was a hilarious and memorable scene as the hotel clerk. After a couple shorts films and some very indie movies he met George Clooney and eventually won one of his most defining roles. Clooney was about to embark on his first directing project, an adaptation of the Chuck Barris autobiography, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind. Rockwell won the prized role of game show host and creator Chuck Barris. He nailed it. With one of the best acting performances of the year he made you feel like you were watching The Gong Show all over again and played the role of a CIA assassin to perfection.

He next teamed up with Nicolas Cage and Allison Lohman in the con man comedy, Matchstick Men. He career appeared to be on the rise. Then, as happens so many times, taking a role in what would be an epic failure. The highly anticipated adaptation of a beloved sci-fi classic novel and British mini-series, A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. The moved fell to critical and financial dismay. The next couple years would be commercially lean for Rockwell and he wouldn’t grab notable recognition until he was in the independent western movie, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. He would play Robert Ford’s brother, Charley. The one trouble with the Jesse James film wasn’t critical acclaim or poor box office numbers because it exceeded everyone’s expectations in those areas. The problem was Casey Affleck was so good he stole the show including reception of his first Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. Rockwell was back in the shadows as fast as he came out. Make no mistake, Rockwell was every bit as good as Affleck just going unnoticed.

He continued to work and took a smaller but key role the next year in the critacly acclaimed Ron Howard project, Frost/Nixon based on the Broadway play. Once again acting out-shined Rockwell with stellar scenes that are instructional videos on great acting, between Frank Langella and Michael Sheen.

Returning to the indie scene he tackled his best role and by far his most challenging. The low budget sci-fi thriller, Moon, seemed doomed from the start. With a budget of only 5 million and filmed during the writers strike and at the helm was a first time director, it seemed destined to fail. The pressure weighed all on Rockwell’s shoulders. With at least 95 percent of the scenes being him alone talking to a computer voice only rock solid performance could save the movie. As far as indie movies go? It was a smash success! Sam had done it. He had saved the movie without question with a once in a lifetime performance. Sadly again not many knew about Moon nor did the awards committees see fit to honor the great role he made.

Rockwell has worked steadily including roles in Iron Man 2 and Cowboys and Aliens working with his good friend Jon Favreau. We can only hope that one day Mr. Rockwell will get his due justice, meanwhile keep your eyes open for what could just be his next great performance.

2008’s A True Year Of Diversity And No Genre?

Any fan of movies new that it was just a matter of time before the visionaries that are the Coen brothers would one night rule the Oscar party and in 2008 (movies made in 2007) they did just that, taking best director(s) and best picture and best adapted screenplay all for No Country For Old Men. It truly was master Coen brothers movie, blending their sharp yet dark humor with fine acting and dialogue with characters not to soon be forgotten. So we examine was it the best movie of the year?

One thing is for sure, it was a banner year for nominations. In fact it was one of the years that may have lead to the expansion of the category.

One of the most visually stunning and at times harrowing films was Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of the Upton Sinclair novel Oil! With a lead role that solidified Daniel Day-Lewis as possibly this generations most talented actor. It had one of the most unique musical scores in recent memory which gave the movie a haunting quality and lead to a fear of Day-Lewis’ character. It’s truly a love it or hate it movie but it was without question well directed and acted therefore leading to it’s nomination.

Keeping in theme with the diversity of the movies on the list next is the legal thriller Michael Clayton with multiple nominations including best supporting actress winner Tilda Swinton. The twisting thriller surrounding corporate law firm Kenner, Bach and Ledeen features Tom Wilkenson as manic depressive attorney who turns on his own client in an effort to expose their greedy yet deadly practices while fellow attorney Michael Clayton played by George Clooney attempts to clean up yet another mess dumped on the partners while he can’t keep the aspects of his life in order. Featuring one of the last and great performances of Sydney Pollocks extensive and diverse career, it was an engrossing movie with razor sharp dialogue and confrontation scenes that left you enthralled from the first minute.

As always there is usually a great surprise and a movie that in a way is honored just by having it nominated. The light hearted story of Juno Macguff was this movie. with a heartfelt script of an all too common dilemma faced by too many young women today in the form of teenage pregnancy and that not everyone let’s it ruin their life and how it can become the joy of another’s. A breakthrough role for young Ellen Page and fine night for first time screen writer Diablo Cody.

As per usual the finely acted British film made it’s way in with the WWII love story, Atonement based on the best selling book. With a unique look at love it won the hearts of many women but not the Academy on that night.

Still many others didn’t receive the recognition they so justly deserved. Most notable was the Sean Penn helmed Into The Wild based on the true story and book by John Krakhauer. With a dynamite soundtrack exclusively by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder it tell about a man who gives up all earthly possessions to live in the Alaskan wild to leave off the land and truly be a happy person in nature.

Also of honorable mention was the directing debut of Ben Affleck who directed his brother in the movie based on Dennis Lehane’s novel, Gone Baby Gone. Back to a root he knows, south Boston, he showed the tough living and tough life of the locals as they rally around a local missing child.

Ridley Scott again teamed up with Russell Crowe in American Gangster alongside Denzel Washington as longtime Harlem drug kingpin Frank Lucas and Crowe as the detective who stumbles upon him and his massive operation and then becomes his attorney.

Also left to at least be mentioned was the Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Whalberg in We Own The Night about police and their fight on drugs in NYC in the early 80’s. Charlie Wilson’s War told the story of a playboy congressman who single handedly fought the Russian communist in a covert way to help the Afghan’s defeat them. Last was Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck in the western story The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford based on the novel which had elements of truth to it with a very visually engrossing and beautiful picture of the American west.

So what was the best? No doubt a case could be made for almost all these movies. With the diversity and quality in this year it seems only fitting that the duo that is the Coen brother’s would win since their movies are the most diverse and have been called a genre of their own. The biggest misstep by the Academy was not giving former bad boy, Sean Penn more recognition. If not a best picture nomination most deserving of a best director nod. It is a year rife with debate possibilities only the fans could decide the best for this year.

Contagion Will Leave You Infected

For every creative person, be it in their social life or if it’s their profession, they will have ups and downs. They will, like an athlete, go in streaks of greatness, having a great game or a few in a row then go into a slump of some kind. This philosophy holds true for film makers as well. They all have flops.

Steven Soderbergh is no different. His career has been a varying array of films from the mind blowing good like Traffic to the painfully bad like Solaris. Last year marked one of the better moments of his career. While not ground shaking like Traffic or Sex,Lies and Videotape but not nearly as bad as Bubble or Full Frontal. Contagion is not the newest or most original story every told, in fact it’s been done several times, just see Michael Crichton’s very original and exceptional work, Andromeda Strain or even the star studded action thriller Outbreak. Contagion takes aspects of all these projects and filters them into one intense and realistic feeling movie.

A extremely deadly virus has formed and has made it’s way across 3 continents. In the matter of only a couple of weeks a true epidemic has happened and doctors and scientist are eagerly working on a cure and how and why the virus works. Heading the research is Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet. Matt Damon plays the husband of the first American victim and the carrier of the virus to the U.S. who is also immune to the disease. He spends his time trying to safe guard all he has left from contracting the virus, his daughter.

What makes the film work and what will leave you thinking about every cough and sneeze and what you touch as soon as the movies over is it’s reality and at times deafening silence. Not over wrought with dialogue, it has a smoothness and element of sharpness to it. In a time and world condition where no one is safe and anything can happen you are left with an anxiousness of what is to come.

Soderbergh adds a human element to the film that most virus movies don’t have. You don’t normally experience the pain and shock that everyone feels on a personal level like this movie brings out.

While not a perfect movie and certainly not worthy of Oscars gold, if you take the movie for what it is, a somewhat sci-fi thriller and want to be entertained for 100 minutes than most likely you will have your senses peaked and your mind getting worked. If you are looking for more than that, such as hidden messages or for this to be the next China Syndrome, be prepared for some disappointment. Overall it’s a good time and should be taken for just that.

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