Tag Archives: sean penn

50 Years Of Woody Allen Top 5 1990-1999

woody-allen-text-picContinuing the look at 50 years of Woody Allen in films brings us to the 1990’s working all the way back to the beginning. The 1990’s were quite good to Woody and his films. He was personally nominated for 5 Academy Awards and 2 of his actresses walked away with statues. He was truly in the middle of some great collaborations with his long time muse, Mia Farrow before a very public and breakup put an end to that in the middle of one their films. He then called upon his long time friend and previous muse, Diane Keaton to help him keep on track. Here is my list of his top 5 films of the 1990’s.

5. Mighty Aphrodite (1995) mighty-aphrodite-movie-poster-1995-1020204327

Mira Sorvino plays the very flighty and and otherwise, oblivious prostitute, Linda. Lenny discovers his adopted son is a genius so he decides to track down his birth mother only to discover she is nothing like her son. This film was a bold choice by Allen for its subject matter and some of the frank dialogue about Linda’s profession. Sorvino clearly steals the picture and she would go on to win the Oscar for best supporting actress. Woody would once again be nominated for his writing

4. Bullets Over Broadway (1994) bullets-over-broadway-1994-720p-large

Since he has been making films, Allen has been very good at mastering period films. Many times his nostalgia pictures as I call them, take place between the 20’s and 40’s and he captures them so well. Set in 1928 on Broadway, a young playwright has his play financed by mobsters in order to afford to put the production on. There is one catch though, the mobster wants his girlfriend to star in the play. Nominated for 7 Academy Awards and winning for Diane Wiest, her second and the second she won for her work with Woody. A well acted and very funny film that broods exactly what we have come to love about his films.

3. Sweet And Lowdown (1999) 8vyqrf8kthhvhpj6azjvfvpleww

Once again a period piece in which he displays his love of Jazz music. Set in the 1930’s, focusing on Emmet Ray, so wonderfully played by Sean Penn, a jazz guitarist who has big dreams but seems to fall in with the wrong people in his attempts to make it big. Sweet And Lowdown is one of Woody’s tributes to his love of jazz music and features a sensational soundtrack and brilliant guitar playing by Penn himself.

2. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) manhattan-murder-mystery

After the ugly scandal and very public breakup with Mia Farrow, he needed something stable and familiar for his first movie, post Farrow. Enter Diane Keaton, the original muse and the one whom Woody helped make into a major star. This was her first major role with Allen since 1979’s Manhattan (she did have a brief came in 1987’s Radio Days). A married couple meet an older couple who live in their building, they soon suspect the husband has murdered his newly deceased wife. As Keaton’s character becomes increasingly obsessed with the situation Allen reluctantly gets sucked into the drama. This was the perfect movie to follow up after the tabloid mania that he had been enduring.

1. Husbands And Wives (1992) il_fullxfull-400379046_7wht

Choosing Husbands And Wives as his best of the 90’s had a bittersweet feeling to it. This movie was much more drama than comedy and even more so considering the publicity surrounding it. The performances of Allen and Farrow deliver, despite their breakup in the middle of shooting, are wonderful. Farrow almost quit the picture near the end of filming, but was convinced to persevere and she did so gracefully and even memorably. The ironic subject of a couple breaking up and the effect it has on their close friends, serves as that bitter reminder of what was going on at the time. Nonetheless it once again garnered Allen an Oscar nomination for writing and Judy Davis received one for supporting actress.

Top Five Male Acting Performances Of The Current Century (Re-Post)

It has been 4 years since I compiled this list  what performances would you add to it?

Due to a recent viewing of the Paul Thomas Anderson film, The Master, I was forced to look at what acting performances have been better than the several I just finished witnessing on the screen. This lead to a top five list of the greatest male performances of this century, being from the year 2000 to the present. This list will be a subject of debate but none the less, has what I consider the greatest performances we have seen in the last 12 years.

5.Sean Penn:  Mystic River

After having out grown his “bad boy” persona, but not his passion for what he believes, Sean Penn would team up with Hollywood royalty in director, Clint Eastwood for an adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel, Mystic River. Playing former convict and very small time ring leader of loyal enforcers Jimmy Markum, Penn pulls out one of the most emotional roles of his storied career. This would earn Penn his first Oscar win for which he seemed quite humbled by the honor. Penn’s performance is undeniably genuine and flawless from beginning to end.

4.Leonardo DiCaprio:  Blood Diamond

Leonardo DiCaprio made Blood Diamond amid a streak of fabulous performances in 3 straight Martin Scorsese films. It was the Blood Diamond that, to me, showed DiCaprio’s talent and commitment to every role he undertakes. Playing the role of Danny Archer, a South African smuggler and somewhat of an unforgiving pirate who’s life is turned upside down when he help’s a poor farmer rescue his son from the rebel forces who kidnapped him forcing him to fight. Archer does all of this in exchange for a rare pink diamond found and hidden by the boy’s father. DiCaprio mastered a perfect South African accent and for once, even managed to seem somewhat evil and ruthless, while we believe and see his heart actually change along the way.

3.Christian Bale:  The Fighter

Christian Bale was clearly at the peak of his career and, almost couldn’t help but put out hit after hit when he took on the role of the real life former boxer and crack addict, Dick Ecklund. The physical transformation Bale underwent, while remarkable, is only a side note to his incredible and spot-on portrayal of Dick Ecklund. Between a pitch perfect Boston accent, to the heart warming, in film transformation from sunken crack addict, to passionate and driven boxing trainer, is near remarkable.

2.Mickey Rourke:  The Wrestler

The film and role of a lifetime could never have been done with out Mickey Rourke’s involvement. The story that brought out so many emotions in Rourke, and hit so close to home that it could have distanced Rourke from making the role, that late in his life would define his career. Rourke saw so many similarities between Randy “The Ram” and his life and believed so highly in Darren Aronofsky that he did nothing short of throw himself deep into the role, making for some of the most compelling acting seen on screen in years, with a true reality that makes you feel every emotion felt not only by “The Ram”,  but by Rourke himself.

1.Heath Ledger:  The Dark Knight

Not much can be said that hasn’t already been said about Ledger and his portrayal of The Joker, in the truly epic middle story of Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga. His commitment and transformation not only was superb, but truly frightening in achieving what Ledger and Nolan set out to accomplish, by making The Joker seem so real it would strike fear in all that saw it. No one wanted to see what happened to Ledger after filming, but there is no doubt it’s the film he will be remembered for and it is a movie and role anyone would be proud to have it be their calling card.

Walter Mitty’s Secret Life Is Worth Experiencing

the-secret-life-of-walter-mittyI’ve had a hard time thinking about how I wanted to introduce Ben Stiller’s latest directing effort, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. The ultimate thing to say is that Ben Stiller has turned a corner when it comes to his films. His previous films are some comedy legends, like Cable Guy and Tropic Thunder and Zoolander. Walter Mitty is a turn away from the hysterical comedies the Stiller family is known for.

Walter Mitty is the story of a quiet independent picture editor for Life magazine who is prone to sudden and realistic day dreams that leave others looking oddly on Walter.

When Walter develops a crush on a new employee he ventures to her online dating profile in hopes to make a connection with out having to do it in person. They abruptly learn that Life magazine will be printing it’s final issue. Walter is tasked with handling a role of negatives from their most trusted photographer and it includes his recommendation for the picture that should end up on the cover of the final issue. The trouble is Walter can’t locate the negative or Sean O’Connell, who sent the film. He reluctantly embarks on a world wide journey attempting to track down O’Connell and the film.

On his journey he encounters various characters who have interaction with O’Connell and because of the crazy adventure his sudden day dreaming episodes are replaced with real life adventure. When he finally tracks Sean down and sees the way he thinks and lives and works he is, in a way, changed.

Ben Stiller gives a warming performance in which he exudes qualities that so many of us can relate to. The investment you make into Walter Mitty’sthe-secret-life-of-walter-mitty-2 life leaves you with such heart felt satisfaction as to how he begins LIVING his life inside of dreaming it.

The layout and connections throughout the film are so seamlessly connected it’s as if it perfectly flows as it should. With performances that are just right when it comes to their subtlety.

If you are a fan of the short story or the 1947 Danny Kaye version and are hoping for strong connections, you most likely will be severely disappointed. It’s a very modern twist and aside from the day dreaming aspect bears no resemblance to the originals. Thats not at all to say it takes away from what a beautiful, feel good film it is.

There’s a possibility you could see a script nomination and an outside chance at a directing nomination when Oscar announces the nominations.

It’s beauty and courage it gives off makes it a film that really is highly entertaining and moving.

James Gandolfini’s Film Career Remembered

48987-james-gandolfini-637x0-1Wednesday June 19, 2013 the entertainment and acting world lost a true giant when James Gandolfini succumbed to a massive heart attack and fell asleep in death. Gandolfini will forever be remembered as Tony Soprano on one of the greatest television shows of all time and his character may be one of the best as well. Tony was superbly written and thought out. The depth that went into the character could only be written so deep, Gandolfini brought it to a different level all together.

While being remembered as Tony Soprano is a phenomenal legacy to have, it is also a little bit sad that some people will never know what a terrific actor Gandolfini was. Tony Soprano is a key example of how great he really was but only looking at his other work shows how good he really was as Tony. I’ve decided to take a look at some of my favorite Gandolfini roles and some of his most diverse.

5. The Mexican (Winston Baldry)th-4

Winston is a hitman, true, and that is close to the Soprano character but Winston has a twist, he’s gay. He not only is gay, he has a conscience and doubts his way of life. He brought a humanity to the character that was desperately needed. It was the character that stood out and made the movie better than it was.

welcome_to_the_rileys01 4. Welcome To The Riley’s (Doug Riley)

Doug Riley is stuck in a 30 year marriage with a wife who has never gotten over the loss of their 15 year old daughter and while Doug has become numb to his life as well he begins to show signs of breaking out. On a business trip to New Orleans he unexpectedly get’s hooked up with a 16 year old prostitute and begins to help change her life. This character is so complex on the inside while being bland on the outside and near emotionless. He does a beautiful job letting his inner self come through a little bit at a time.

3. Zero Dark Thirty (C.I.A. Director)james-gandolfini-zero-dark-thirty

There isn’t much more opposite of the head of a mafia crime family than the head of the C.I.A. Therefore when he played the Director in the award winning film about the 10 year hunt for Osama Bin Laden his brief time on film had to make an impact. The few words he spoke resinated and gave credibility to different characters and where they stood and what empowered them. Usually when a bigger name actor is cast in a smaller role it is because the expertise is needed despite the size of the role. His expertise was just what that character and film needed and got.

allthekingsmen3 2. All The Kings Men (Tiny Duffy)

When I said that being C.I.A. Director was as opposite as you could get I meant it but playing a crooked southern politician in 1950’s Louisiana is just about as opposite as well. Tiny Duffy is a crooked man working with major politicians to help swing an election but when it doesn’t go their way he is forced to join the man trying to bring them down and he has all but become his lap dog. With a pretty decent southern accent he had the ability to play the character with the confidence of Tony Soprano until it was needed for him to be brought down to the low level and he filled those shoes just as well.

1. Cinema Verite (Craig Gilbert)cinema-verite-poster

Gandolfini returned to HBO for this film which did well at the Golden Globes and various festivals. Craig Gilbert was a true life person who was a television producer who is credited with creating what is now known as reality TV. He had the idea to follow a seemingly normal family and when the cameras come the normal goes away. He struggles with the morality of what he is doing and trying to keep his feelings for the wife and mother of the family, in check.

Gandolfini will be greatly missed and it is safe to assume now that a Sopranos movie is not going to happen. So as we reflect on his career and the things he did, remember these words from The Sopranos theme song: “ She said, you’re one in a million. You got to learn to shine.” Shine he did.

Gangster Squad Doesn’t Know What Side It’s On

gangster-squadEvery movie rides a very thin line between being a humorous comedy or a serious drama. No genre of movies ride this line thinner than period pieces, films that attempt to capture a certain time in human history in every aspect. They can go from feeling like a breathing comic book or to a snapshot of history. Rarely does a film capture both. Gangster Squad has managed that very thing, and dare I say in a good way. Capturing both could be a good thing if done right. Gangster squad captures both in the wrong way.

This is the VERY loosely based true story of mobster Mickey Cohen’s reign over Hollywoodland, as it was affectionately known, and Los Angeles county. Aside from names and positions, the majority of this film is fabricated and the spin of money making film makers yarn. The essential Gangster Squad there seems to be little known about and what they did or accomplished, even less. What is known is how Cohen was taken down and what he did, subsequently afterwards. The movie tells the story of 5 legit cops who put all ethics and laws aside to take down Cohen. In there pursuit is every aspect that makes up a perfect story from a young bitter bachelor cop that falls in love to the gritty veteran who can’t seem to let the war go and the ambitious aspect that came with it who also happens to be an expecting father and wants clean streets for his child to grow up on. The dossier on these gentlemen couldn’t line up more perfectly outside a Hollywood script therefore taking away the credibility of the film piece by piece.

The trouble with Gangster squad is it’s inconsistency as a film. It starts out fairly light hearted, tho in a darker tone a la Guy Ritchie. While it’s a serous topic the humor seems to take center stage. the lines almost seemed to be delivered over the top outside of Emma Stone and Sean Penn who are masters at this moment in delivering dialogue. One of the other great speakers and dialogue deliverers is Ryan Gosling who at the out set seems to be a very satyrical and almost cliche character.

My initial thoughts were that this was gonna be a Guy Ritchie meets Brian DePalma film. While on paper and in minds that sounds fantastic, on screenGangster-Squad-1 it didn’t seem to be working.

About half way to 3/4 of the way the film takes a very serious turn and forces all the loose comical appeal of the characters out the window and now forces you to try and look at the film as a serious work of art with great ambitions. There’s one problem…it’s way too late for that. Everyone seemed to be looking for the next funny moment, which only seemed to arrive when a bloody Mickey Cohen seemed to weep when arrested, but unsure if it was a weep or smile. The faults all lay with the director as the actors seemed to transition well and not make a dramatic change in character, accents and demeanor remained the same but the tone and flow of the film was destroyed.Initial impressions were, if I wondered what would have happened if Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy and L.A. Confidential had a love child this would without question be the answer.

Every actor signed up with a great script and rightfully so, don’t fault them for being let down creatively.

It is worthy to note that a substantial portion of the movie was taken out and some was re-shot after the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado and the massacre at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. This may have played a significant role in the feel and flow of the film but based on the final product, so much was left as a “what could have been” type feeling.

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.

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.