Monday, January 31, 2011

Film Composer, John Barry Passes Away

John Barry is one of the most essential film composers of all-time, his work most remembered in the original 007 adventures with Sean Connery, crafting the James Bond score that is still played in the Bond films to this day. The man's contributions to the world of cinema will always be remembered, he passed away at the age of 77. We here at the Review will keep his family and friends in our thoughts and prayers. To celebrate his lifelong achievement to film, here's a sample of his great talent:

"The Man of Steel" is Cast, and he's a Brit?

I love Superman, he's in a three-way tie with Batman and Spider-man for my favorite comic book hero of all-time, so I wanna see any new Superman movie being made, and Zack Snyder's movie The Man of Steel has some fantastic potential, being written by David Goyer and produced by Chris Nolan, but I am a little skeptical over the casting of British actor Henry Cavill as Superman himself.

It's not that I don't think Cavill can act, cause I've only ever heard rave reviews about his star portrayal in The Tudors, but am I the only one that thinks it is weird to cast a British person as one of the most essential American icons? Sure, Cavill will probably do great in the role, I mean, he'll do a fantastic American accent and will probably knock it out of the park, but if the producers of Harry Potter can be exclusive about only casting British actors as British characters, then why not cast only American actors as American characters? I don't hate Britain or British actors, I just wonder why so many movies nowadays opt out of casting American actors?

It's a startling trend, I mean Nolan's own The Dark Knight was filled with actors playing Americans who are not American born but hailed from Britain and Australia; as a matter of fact, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gylenhaal, and Morgan Freeman, are the only leads from that movie that were born and raised in the US of A. Once again, as long as they do fine in the roles of Americans, I shouldn't care, but what does this mean for the future of American movies themselves when we're having to draw in talent from other countries to make our movies? We'll find out when The Man of Steel hits theaters Holiday season of 2012!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Movie Review: "The Fighter"

Two brothers. First there is Dickie, a crack addict, who just also happens to be a washed up fighter, now trainer for his younger brother, who is boxer "Irish" Micky Ward. Then, there is Micky, a boxer who must battle his own family before he can become a legend in the ring. The Fighter is a familial drama with some sports in it, but like all of the greatest boxing movies, it is when the characters are outside of the ring that the movie wins one over.

Micky's family is what one would call a convoluted battle of the wills. They do not take too kindly to outsiders, or doing things outside of the family, so it is no wonder that neither Dickie, Micky, nor their sisters are married, and you'll fully understand this when you meet their domineering mother, Alice, played to crisp perfection by Melissa Leo. Adding to the strain is Charlene, Micky's new girlfriend, played exceptionally well by Amy Adams, who sees the potential in Micky to be something great, but he must first overcome his family and become his own man if he is to be champion. Actor Mark Whalberg is the heart-and-soul of the movie as Micky Ward, and what more can anyone say about Christian Bale's no holds barred performance as Dickie. This movie is an actor's showcase, featuring some of the best acting you will see in a longtime, and I think a lot of the credit should go to director, David O. Russell.

Russell shoots everything very naturally, there is a flow to it, like the human observer watching these things unfold rather than him intentionally leading us by the hand and manipulating us like so many sports movies have done. I've gotta say, the fight scenes filmed like HBO fights on television was a brilliant choice, not to mention the opening credits when Micky and Dickie walk like kings through the streets of their hometown of Lowell, Mass., these and so many other scenes are just some of the more finely crafted scenes to be projected on the big screen in a long time. In the end, the movie still manages to be uplifting and makes you wanna cheer Micky on, but you don't feel as if you were watching characters, but real people persevere and simply live, that is The Fighter's strong suit, and it is better for it.

I give The Fighter an A+!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

11 Potential Surprises for 2011

About a week back I did my list of what I am most anticipating for this upcoming year in the worlds of film, TV, and whatever else I wanted to post about. As with any year, there is always those things that without a shadow of a doubt you wanna see, but there is also those that have question marks about them, they look good, but I have some reservations about them. Of course, such a movie is the kind that can often surprise us more so than any other kind of movie. So today I am devoting this spot to 11 films that I think are worth looking out for in 2011. All 11 of these movies have their things about them that keep me from wanting to anticipate them as much as some other movies, but there is just something intriguing about them that keeps me coming back wanting to know more. So here are the 11, in order of release:

* Sanctum - It is not just James Cameron's name attached to this movie as executive producer that makes this movie look interesting. In the past year we've seen a huge uptick in the number of thrillers produced regarding these type of claustrophobic, man vs. nature adventures. I've always loved the ideas of exploring the unknown reaches of the world, and a movie about cave divers trying to escape a flooding cave in a monsoon sounds like a fantastic spectacle to behold, not to mention it comes out in February, one of the drier months of the year for movies, so it might be a nice movie just to see for the heck of it.

* I Am Number Four - Director D.J. Caruso has made some very interesting movies in the past few years. From Disturbia to Eagle Eye, he is a good crowd-pleaser, who has a talent to handle action with teenage romance extremely well. Not to mention, this movie has a lot more going for it. It is a movie about a teenage alien hiding out on Earth, who goes to school, falls in love, makes friends, while also being hunted by alien mercs who wanna kill him! Toss in the fact that the movie was godfathered by Spielberg, written by Smallville creators Al Gough and Miles Millar, and you've got me on board. And just like Sanctum, what else comes out in February that is really worth seeing?

* Rango - When it has come to feature films, Nickelodeon's animation has been a bit hit-and-miss, but with Pirates of the Caribbean director, Gore Verbinski on board, maybe they're hoping to turn it around. The movie is the story of a pet chameleon who escapes to an odd Wild West town run by animals, where he becomes Sheriff. I don't really know much else, other than what I've seen so far looks interesting, not to mention the whole movie's dialogue was recorded on a soundstage where the actors, like Johnny Depp and Bill Nighy, acted out the scenes alongside one another on cardboard sets in front of cameras, then the animators used that footage to animate the scenes using the actor's movements and expressions to influence their characters. For March, this one may be worth a look.

* Paul - I love Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Hot Fuzz is one of the funniest movies ever, but this is their fist collaboration done entirely with an American crew, set in America, and without their Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead director, Edgar Wright. Regardless, the movie (written by Pegg and Frost) looks funny, telling the story of two geeks traveling the US searching out geek hotspots like Area 51, only to pick up a talking alien on the side of the road named Paul. I love alien movies, and Pegg and Frost truly are funny together, so this may be that comedy to look out for when it hits mid-March.

* Hanna - Director Joe Wright (Atonement) is really stepping far away from his usual drama-centric narrative arc as a director, into the world of high octane action. Not to mention, he has cast this action/thriller entirely with dramatic actors from Saoirse Ronan to Eric Bana to Cate Blanchett, all teaming up to tell this story of a 14-year-old girl, who was trained by her father to be an assassin! There looks to be some sort of conspiracy in this movie or whatever, that's typical of the genre nowadays, but in April, there's not much else that looks this promising.

* Water for Elephants - While I am not a fan of actor Robert Pattinson, this movie looks very interesting. Movies about the circus, and circus life have always intrigued me, and having Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz on board as the ringleader is always a good thing. If the movie can keep from dipping into melodrama and manage to sell the fantastical things that still makes circuses popular the world over, this could be a good April pleaser.

* Pirates on the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - You know, I didn't really like the second or third movies in this franchise, but after so-so critical reactions to the past two, producer Jerry Bruckheimer really cleaned house, getting a new director (Rob Marshall) and shedding two main characters (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley). The focus has been shifted entirely to Jack Sparrow this time, and while his over-the-top antics in parts two and three were two of those movies' biggest detractors for me, I really think the inclusion of Penelope Cruz as his love interest could liven things up in this new installment. I'm giving this new take the benefit of the doubt, and we'll see if it works out come May.

* Drive - September is a statistically dead month for movies, so this might be something to tide you over till the good stuff come in the holiday season. I've kept my eye on this action/thriller for some time, about a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for crime. The movie stars two of the finest working actors, Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, and the script once had such big talent attached like Hugh Jackman, so the story may actually be up to snuff, here's hoping the movie delivers the thrills.

* Johnny English Reborn - If you haven't seen the first Johnny English, shame on you. It is the best spoof of the secret agent genre ever made, starring Mr. Bean's Rowan Atkinson as a known nothing 007 type, who does everything wrong but ultimately saves the day in the end. The first movie is one of my favorite hidden gems, and I was so happy to hear of a sequel, so I hope it doesn't disappoint come September, cause it has some big shoes to fill.

* Real Steel - I have huge amounts of respect for Night of the Museum director Shawn Levy, so much so that I really think that this may be his big breakout from his usual niche market of family comedies into something a lot more my tastes. Real Steel is set in a future where humans no longer fight for sport, but they just train robots to get in the ring and fight for them. The story stars Hugh Jackman as a former boxer, turned robot trainer. This could be a fresh shot in the arm for the tried and true boxing genre which hasn't really been infused with nothing new since the early '80s with the Rocky movies and Raging Bull. This is one to look out for come October.

* Arthur Christmas - Who doesn't love Aardman Animation, the makers of Wallace and Grommit and Chicken Run. This movie, about St. Nick's son, looks to be another expansion of their trademark humor, infused with their usual wit and charm, and dare I say it, could a new Christmas classic be in the midst? We'll find out this November.

So that's it, obviously there are many other movies I wanted to include, but didn't. Oh, what the hay, I'll toss 'em out there anyways: Source Code, Unknown, The Beaver, Mr. Popper's Penguins, Your Highness, The Three Musketeers, and many, many more.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Movie Review: "The King's Speech"

Most men can speak, though not many actually have a voice. Now, take this for example: What if one has a voice, but is unable to speak? What does one do? That is the central idea of director Tom Hooper's movie, The King's Speech, featuring magnificent performances from Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, as King George VI (Firth), the King of England who stammered, and speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Rush).

George VI was the King of Great Britain during the second World War, and well known for being the father of current Queen of England, Elizabeth. What this movie deals with isn't the usual propaganda material to try and make you think how majestic or grand a king he was, but it is the opposite, it shows all of his weaknesses to let us know that even someone as great as that is still human, that the human triumphs of bravery and determination can overpower any of our own shortcomings. Yes, even a stutter.

The most magnificent part of the movie is the relationship between George and Logue, as the two men develop a friendship whilst Logue tries to teach George how to talk like a king should. The saddest part, is that people don't want to hear a king who stutters, so he must agonizingly torture himself in his own fears and self-pity, but that is a different matter altogether, what is the matter of the movie is how the unorthodox relationship between Logue and George is what actually makes George the king he becomes. Yes, George manages to overcome his stutter when it comes time for him to deliver his first wartime speech deriding Hitler in the climax, but Logue actually gives George the confidence that he is a brave and strong man worthy to be king. George is continuously throughout the movie plagued with doubts about whether or not he could be king because of his disability, but Logue manages to use psychology to get to know the man beneath the stutter, and we as the audience agree with Logue when George's brother, David abdicates the throne of England in order for George to be the king England deserves.

Sad to say, the movie often drags in the moments where it deals more so with world history and less with George's impediment, in particular the long scenes in the middle when George's father dies, which could have easily been handled in a simple line of expositional dialogue and kept us more so in the story of George's and Logue's friendship. Regardless, this is a special movie that is uplifting, enjoyable, and filled with marvelous acting performances, myself being quite frankly stunned by Guy Pearce's portrayal as George's brother David or Timothy Spall's invigorating role as Winston Churchill.

I give The King's Speech an A!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bat-Villains Cast!

So it is official, the villains for Christopher Nolan's follow-up to The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, have been set. No, there will be no Riddler as long lobbied for by many fanboys. It will be -- Drum roll! -- Catwoman and Bane! Don't believe me? Check the press release from WB. What has me more intrigued is that actress Anne Hathaway will be portraying Catwoman and her alter ego Selina Kyle, where as the previously announced Tom Hardy will be playing Nolan's take on the character of Bane.

To be honest, this is far from what I would have predicted as to which villains would most likely figure into the movie given how The Dark Knight ended; not to say that I'm not thrilled that all of the rumor and speculation is now over and we can go on to grinding away as to how these characters will figure into Nolan's Bat-trilogy.

Personally, if it were me, I would have not cast Hathaway as Catwoman. The choice just doesn't sit very well with me, I just can't help it (but then again I didn't want the character in the movie anyways). Catwoman has a certain mystique about her, a certain mixture of mystery and voluptuousness like the great femme fatales of the 1940s film noirs. For me, even though Hathaway has done many more daring roles since her Princess Diaries days, she just doesn't seem to fit the part as well as say Rachel Weisz would have. As for Tom Hardy's casting, I never objected to his inclusion in the story, but I am puzzled by their choosing Bane, an assassin who juices up on venom to make him super strong. While Bane is by no means a bad character, why Nolan finally seems to have broken his rule of not including one of the more fantastical villains from Batman cannon is beyond me.

As for now, all we can do is sit and wait, cause when it comes to casting, Nolan truly is the man. I mean, there was a similar scratch of the head reaction when he cast Heath Ledger as the Joker, and look how that turned out. Could lightning have struck twice in his villain casting? We'll see, as for now, I'm still excited, and just glad we're getting closer to seeing Christian Bale donning the cape and cowl once more!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Most Anticipated, 2011

2011 is nearly a month into its stride, and I figured it'd be a befitting time to write up what I'm most excited about in film, television, and any other facet of entertainment this upcoming year. Like most of my countdowns, this will be a top 10 list, ranking the 10 things I'm most excited about to my numero uno! Let's get counting down:

10. A Return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to Movies - Who doesn't love Arnold, the guy is an icon, and now that he's no longer the governator of California, the word is he's already looking at scripts to get back into the thesp. arena, and I couldn't be more excited.

9. The Muppets - Actor/writer Jason Segel has taken his love for the Jim Henson creations to the next level by scripting the first Muppets movie in years. The story follows our favorite cast of lovable puppets trying to save their old theater from being destroyed by staging one last show. This should be a fun return to form for Kermit and Co., and I couldn't be happier. Look for it in theaters Nov. 23rd.

8. The Tree of Life - Director Terrence Malick's long delayed film, The Tree of Life, will finally see the light of day this May. The movie that has been chatted up as being a gamechanger of modern cinema, has so much hype going into it, I don't know how it can fully live up, but I will say the one trailer released thus far is utterly gorgeous, here's hoping the mystery story that no one really knows about is good to boot.

7. 'The Beard's' One-Two Punch - My favorite director of all-time, Steven Spielberg is fighting back this year with two movies hitting theaters this December, War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin-The Secret of the Unicorn. Both are movies that sound like the kind of family friendly, blockbuster fare that made Spielberg the big name he is in the industry, so I'm hopeful.

6. The Nintendo 3DS - Video game manufacturer, Nintendo's latest handheld gaming system, the 3DS, is going to be the first ever 3D videogame system that will not require 3D glasses. By using these sliders on the side of the system, the gamer can adjust the depth of field to create real 3D imagery by looking at the screen. Color me intrigued, and if this pans out, this same technology could be applied to film, TV, even computers and the internet. I've always said I'd only ever like 3D if it could be done without the glasses, perhaps this is the dawn of a new three-dimensional era...

5. The Invention of Hugo Cabret - So I'm not all that crazy about Martin Scorese's decision to film the adaptation of the enchanting Brian Selznick kid's book in 3D, but the story of the material is so captivating, it is hard not to be pumped. The Invention of Hugo Cabret will be director Martin Scorsese's first 3D film, but it will also be his first kid's movie! The story follows Hugo Cabret, an orphan who tends to the clocks in a Paris train station whilst he tries to rebuild an automaton that him and his father found before his father's death. The book is heavily focused on the early days of film, and I'm sure with Scorsese at the helm, that will remain intact.

4. The Summer of the Superheroes! - This Summer is gonna be a watershed year for superhero movies, with Marvel bringing Thor, The First Avenger: Captain America, and X-Men: First Class, to the table, and DC bringing the long awaited Green Lantern to the big screen, it is a big year for the comic book heroes. All of these movies are crucial to the success of future franchise superheroes with the success of Cap'n and the God of Thunder heavily weighing on whether or not 2012's The Avengers movie will actually have an audience, where as the Mutants are fighting just to stay from falling into Hollywood obscurity after two lackluster sequels, and Green Lantern being the first DC film made that doesn't star Batman or Superman.... You get the picture, a big Summer, and I, as a fan of comic books, couldn't be more excited to sit back and enjoy this ride.

3. Super 8 - No matter what you say, I love director J.J. Abrams, and I will be there at midnight to finally see his latest mystery project that he serves as both writer and director. The movie, Super 8, is said to be an homage to Spielberg films of the late '70s and early '80s, being set in the same time period about teens in small town USA who encounter an alien. Not much word is known, but that's part of the fun; we're so used to knowing everything there is to know about a movie before seeing it that we forgot the times where we sat down in a dark theater and watched something that we had no preconceived notions about. Abrams knows how to create hype without giving away all the big thrills, and I'm sure there are some big ones in store when this blockbuster hits theaters in June.

2. Smallville's End - Call me a loser, a geek, anything, I have been a diehard fan of the CW's Smallville since its first airing. The story of how Clark Kent becomes Superman is so fresh, and original, that while it has had its missteps, it has always managed to keep me engaged. With the Smallville staff pulling out all the stops for these last five months, I am sure we are in for a wild ride, and besides, who doesn't wanna see Tom Welling finally donning the cape and soaring up into the clouds?

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 2 - I'm getting sad at even writing this, after seven books, seven movies, the Harry Potter franchise will come to an end this Summer with the release of the eighth and final film this July. So much of my teenage life was invested in the characters of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, we as the readers grew up with them, and it is tough to watch the end, but it is what we have all been waiting for since we first heard John William's score a decade ago. We know the end, but will it be done justice? If the last two Potter films helmed by director David Yates are any indication, who is doing this one, I'd be pretty sure that it will.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Golden Globes' Predictions

Update: Final tally, 7 out of 14. Who knew that Paul Giamatti would beat out the star, Johnny Depp in the Comedy category, and it looks like there is no stopping The Social Network at this point. (Full list of winners, here.)

Tonight is the Golden Globes, one of the many award shows honoring the best in film of the past year. Unlike the Critic's Choice and the Academy, the Globes are voted entirely upon by the Foreign Press Association. The FPA has a tendency to sway more towards popular opinion, and they often come up with some of the more unoriginal award choices of the year, primarily because the Globes tend to cater to starpower more so than individual performances. The key this year, with this being the Foreign Press, I'll just say, keep an eye on The King's Speech possibly knocking out The Social Network, and keep in mind that stars typically always win here. Watch the Globes tonight on NBC, 8/7 central with host Ricky Gervais! Now, for my list of predictions (and for the nominees, check here):

Best Picture (Drama) - The King's Speech
Best Picture (Comedy) - The Kids Are All Right
Best Director - David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor (Drama) - Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Best Actor (Comedy) - Johnny Depp, Alice in Wonderland
Best Actress (Drama) - Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Actress (Comedy) - Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
Best Supporting Actor - Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress - Amy Adams, The Fighter
Best Screenplay - Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Animated Film - Toy Story 3
Best Foreign Language Film - Biutiful
Best Original Song - "I See the Light," by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, Tangled
Best Original Score - Alexandre Desplat, The King's Speech

Saturday, January 15, 2011

An Anatomy of Faith-Based Filmmaking

In recent years, faith-based filmmaking has seen an uptick in the number of films produced, becoming one of the largest niche markets in the film industry. Faith-based films are the movies thatyou see starring the likes of Kirk Cameron, produced by mega-churches, to deliver some sort of sermon, but how do these movies go beyond simply appealing to the church crowd to appealing to all and delivering a good message to non-Christians? That is the challenge, and I think the answer is to not sell the movie as a faith-based movie. Now, let me explain.

Whenever, as a filmmaker, you try to intentionally pigeonhole yourself into telling a story a particular way and you don't allow the natural course of change that typically comes in filmmaking, the less impactful your movie will be. Movies rely on emotion, and the thing that faith-based films have yet to do is to expand beyond the church going crowd because non-church goers are turned off immediately when they see the trailer. Now, I'm not saying stop making the Kirk Cameron movies, cause there is a crowd that enjoys them, but if you're wanting to impact non-Christians with your movies, then you have to think outside the box and not beat them over the head with a sermon.

How you're going to impact non-believers, is through simply telling a good story, and not necessarily setting out to try and accentuate a spiritual theme. If, as you are making the film, a spiritual theme surfaces in your story, then that is real dandy. The thing is, as a filmmaker, you bring your own baggage to the filmmaking process, and your own beliefs and values will impact your work. If you are a Christian, and you have a certain set of ethical values, then you're most likely going to apply those values to your work.

We live in an age where the media has such a profound impact on the normal man, woman, or child, and to be honest, most of it is ethically negative with tons of innuendo, cussing, and violence. If you have a certain set of values and just simply apply them to your story, you'll be surprised to find that your story will be an ethically positive story, and that is how faith-based films I think can take a step forward from the church crowd to non-Christians. A good movie, an impactful movie, is not a movie that beats one over the head, but is a movie that relies on subtlety. Faith-based films don't have to be an extension of the Sunday morning service, as I said, there will always be a need for such movies, but there also needs to be movies that just show a positive lifestyle. There will be problems in any life, it wont always be sugarcoated, but if a Christian makes a movie, and applies their values to the story, then the audience will see how they view the world and how they live, and that is the future of Faith-based films.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Critic's Choice Predictions

Update: So 14 out of 25, who knew the Critics were gonna play it so safe. They were all talk about stuff like Winter's Bone and whatnot, but when it came right down to it they put it right down the middle with Oscar bait like The Fighter and The King's Speech. Shocking results. Oh, well. For full list of winners, check here.

The award's season kicks off this weekend with the Golden Globes on Sunday and the Critic's Choice Movie Awards on VH1 tonight. I'll save my predictions for the Globes till Sunday afternoon, but it's time to get cracking on the predictions for the Critic's Choice.

Now, first thing to understand about the Critic's Choice, is unlike the Academy or the Globes, this is the only award's show completely and entirely decided by American film critics, thus giving it a certain air of intrigue and prestige. Critics have a tendency to be more topical with their choices than both the Academy and the Globes, and they are often more daring with their award choices, often choosing subject matter that is more challenging than your typical Oscar bait. The main thing that typically distinguishes the Critics though, is that the Critics tend to champion lesser known films over the larger, more recognizable fare, so hit indies like Winter's Bone are up there alongside The Social Network and The King's Speech as odds on favorites. Regardless to say, it will be a fun night. Now, onto my predictions (and for a full list of nominees, check here):

Best Picture - The Social Network
Best Director - David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor - Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Best Actress - Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Best Supporting Actor - Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress - Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Best Young Actor - Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Best Acting Ensemble - The Social Network
Best Original Screenplay - Christopher Nolan, Inception
Best Adapted Screenplay - Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Cinematography - Roger Deakins, True Grit
Best Art Direction - Stefan Dechant and Robert Stromberg, Alice in Wonderland
Best Costume Design - Colleen Atwood, Alice in Wonderland
Best Makeup - Black Swan
Best Sound - Inception
Best Editing - Inception
Best Visual Effects - Inception
Best Animated Feature - Toy Story 3
Best Action Movie - Inception
Best Comedy - Easy A
Best Picture Made for Television - The Pacific
Best Foreign Language Film - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Best Documentary Feature - Exit Through the Gift Shop
Best Song - "I See the Light," Tangled
Best Score - Hans Zimmer, Inception

I really hope I'm not overestimating the critic's love for a few of these, in particular their love for Winter's Bone and Inception. We'll find out if I did or didn't tonight at 9/8 central on VH1!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

2010, A Year in Review - Part 5

The final part, the end to the whole enchilada. Today is when I list off my 10 favorite films that I saw in 2010. While there are many movies that were released in 2010, many I haven't gotten to see till 2011, because they haven't opened in my area till then, or something like that. Which is why I have yet to see such big Oscar contenders like The King's Speech or 127 Hours, but I think I saw enough good movies in 2010 to make a respectable top 10 list. Without further ado, my favorite movies I saw in 2010:

10. The Karate Kid (Dir. Harold Zwart)
I am typically all against remakes, and I don't know how to explain why I liked this movie. It is essentially the original film just set in China and he studies Kung Fu, but the biggest difference between this movie and the original, is that they didn't try to make Jackie Chan Pat Morita's Mr. Miyagi, instead they made him a serious, deeply tragic character that was more of a father figure than comic uncle.
(Last year: An Education)

9. Mao's Last Dancer (Dir. Bruce Beresford)
There is another ballet movie that came out in 2010 that got way more press, but if you ask me, this was the better film. The movie was about a Chinese ballet dancer who tries to stay in the States after coming over to dance, soon realizing that he no longer believes in his Communist views. However, complications come when he is defected by the Chinese government. This was such a powerful, and emotionally moving film, and so subtle yet also extremely straightforward at the same time. It is sort of schmaltzy, but it's a feel good movie, and it made me feel good enough towards it to make this list over that other ballet movie.
(Last year: Avatar)

8. The Book of Eli (Dir. The Hughes Brothers)
This was a really daring movie for a Hollywood studio, handling religious subject matter that you rarely see in a studio production, and that is primarily why I loved it so much. It was a fairly standard post apocalyptic, nuclear fall out action flick, but the idea that Eli has the only surviving copy of the bible in the world is such a unique concept, and is executed so grittily, yet beautifully in the end, that it was hard for me not to like it.
(Last year: Sherlock Holmes)

7. It's Kind of a Funny Story (Dir. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)
Bar none, the funniest movie of the year. The movie about a teen who checks himself into a psych ward is what the result would be if John Hughes had made a teen comedy set within a mental hospital. Like the great movies of John Hughes, this movie has actual emotion behind it, blending heart, and sometimes even seriousness. While much of the humor is farfetched, albeit hilarious all the same, the emotions of the characters are real, and that is what made this movie so affecting.
(Last year: Up)

6. The Social Network (Dir. David Fincher)
It is rare for a movie that is really topical, to actually catch my eye, and this movie about the founding of facebook did just that. Thing is, this movie was actually entertaining. It was at times humorous, and at others heartwrenching. It is really a movie about friendships, in particular the friendship of Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin, the co-founders of the famed company, and now ex-friends. It's a modern day Shakespearean tragedy, without all of the murder, but with a ton of emotional backstabbing, that's why it's so brilliant.
(Last year: Ponyo)

5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1 (Dir. David Yates)
Kind of funny, I gave Harry Potter this same slot last year, but the quality of the latest installment is about the same. While these past two Potter films aren't as brilliant as the first three installments, they've been the best in the series since the third film. Both this and last year's movie were solid adventure yarns with all of the charm and elegance that is Harry Potter, and they have helped remind us, the audience, as to why we should still invest ourselves in the stories of the Boy Wizard.
(Last year: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)

4. TRON: Legacy (Dir. Joseph Kosinski)
I feel real weird being one of the few people who actually thought that TRON: Legacy actually lived up to all of the hype, but what can I say. This is a stellar adventure yarn that actually takes time to develop the world, let you drink in all of the fantastical, never moving at a breakneck pace and it tells a coherent and succinct story while also innovating and always creating imagery unlike any you've ever seen. Daft Punk's score does help a little.
(Last year: Up in the Air)

3. How to Train Your Dragon (Dir. Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders)
There was no other movie this past year that was this cool, or just this much fun. Whenever I see a movie and hum the music, reminisce the finale in my mind, or wish to all get out that I could own a dragon as a pet, that is when you know you love a movie. The movie had stirring action scenes, the best of the year, but it also was a surprisingly emotional experience that made one almost think of E.T. Just a fantastic movie that all who are a fan of movies should see.
(Last year: (500) Days of Summer)

2. Toy Story 3 (Dir. Lee Unkrich)
Two animated flicks make the top 3 spots! But seriously, would this one not show up so high on the list? I grew up with these movies, and it is so befitting to see that Pixar has actually allowed the characters that made them household names age and mature, as the viewers aged with them, creating a deep emotional connection that goes beyond just this one movie, but spans all three.
(Last year: Departures)

1. True Grit (Dir. The Coen Brothers)
Okay, first thing to get straight, I typically despise Westerns, and I really don't know what it is about the Coens' latest that swept me away so. The performance of Hailee Steinfeld is the best of the year, not to mention this is the Coens' most refined work as directors. They kept it simple, never doing unnecessary camera moves or cuts. I think the main reason I loved True Grit though, is that it still has enough of the Coens' trademark flare to appeal to their fans, but it is mostly them branching out and making a movie with an actual soul behind it, rather than their usual cynical spin, and that is why it was so memorable.
(Last year: Star Trek)

And that does it for 2010, a mediocre year of movies at best, but that top 5 would have been worthy in any spectacular year. Here's hoping for 2011!

Monday, January 10, 2011

2010, A Year in Review - Part 4

Today I'm rounding out the year end awards with the tops in my acting, writing, and directing honors for 2010. As always, these winners only come from the movies that I was able to see with the mix of my busy schedule and also lack of availability of some of the more arthouse fare in my hometown. If you want an all inclusive list of every movie from 2010, you wont find it here, but if you care to know what my personal favorites were, keep reading. Now, let's get started:

Best Screenplay - Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network
I feel like I gave the cliche, cop out answer, but what can I say, the movie is honest, almost brutal at times, and it is because of its tight screenplay. The dialogue is marvelous, and the flow of the plot is so effortless that there would have been no way for any director to have probably screwed this material up. If it ain't on the page, it wont be on the screen, luckily here, it was all on the page.
(Runners-Up: Joel and Ethan Coen for True Grit; Michael Arndt for Toy Story 3; William Davies, Dean DeBlois, and Chris Sanders for How to Train Your Dragon; and Gary Whitta for The Book of Eli)

Best Supporting Actress - Olivia Wilde for TRON: Legacy
This was a really dull year for female performances in general, but there were enough pleasant supporting performances, that while probably would have not won out in other years, were able to get top honors this year. Olivia Wilde's portrayal of Quorra in TRON isn't earth-shattering work, it's standard heroine fare, but what allowed her to be a unique and individual character is that she is not used as the damsel in distress or the love interest, she is her own hero. Quorra was a spiritual character who believed in higher powers, and it is this aspect of the character where Wilde's performance rung most true and was able to win me over.
(Runners-Up: Mila Kunis for The Book of Eli; Mia Wasikowska for The Kids Are All Right; Rooney Mara for The Social Network; and Marion Cotillard for Inception)

Best Supporting Actor - Andrew Garfield for The Social Network
This is the one acting category that I've been most satisfied with in regards to the output this past year. It has been an extremely solid year for supporting actors, and Andrew Garfield's portrayal as Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin was essentially the heart of that movie. Garfield's performance is really what anchored the audience's emotional reaction to all of the gut punches within the film, and it is that kind of goodie two-shoe, slightly naive, wears his heart on his sleeve performance, that really hits it home and makes the movie a better product as a whole.
(Runners-Up: Lucas Black for Get Low; Mark Ruffalo for The Kids Are All Right; John Morris as the Voice of Andy for Toy Story 3; and Zach Galifianakis for It's Kind of a Funny Story)

Best Lead Actress - Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit
No performance was better this year, whether it be from male or female, lead or supporting, than Hailee Steinfeld's raw and powerful performance as Mattie Ross in the Coen Brothers' latest. She was thirteen when she shot this movie, and each scene she's in, she immediately attracts your attention due to the untrained nature of her acting ability, she manages to steal each scene from the likes of Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin. While child actors tend to get a lot of flack for often feeling canned or what not, when you actually run across that rare gem like Steinfeld, that when these children who just have so much natural talent perform before they ever seek formal training, their performances always ring more true than any they do after training (for example, Jodie Foster or Henry Thomas, who are still good, but one misses the raw passion of their childhood performances) but hopefully Steinfeld wont fall into such pratfalls after she refines her talent.
(Runners-Up: Julianne Moore for The Kids Are All Right; Emma Roberts for It's Kind of a Funny Story; Emma Watson for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1; and Chloe Moretz for Let Me In)

Best Lead Actor - Tom Hanks as the Voice of Woody for Toy Story 3
I have a knack for often wanting to celebrate voice performances in animation alongside the live action ilk, and call it my own sentimentality or whatever, but there was just no finer performance this past year than Tom Hanks's vocal prowess as Woody the Cowboy for the final time. The character of Woody and the actor known as Tom Hanks are almost synonymous in a sense. They get their energy from one another, Tom Hanks is as much Woody as Woody is Tom Hanks, and it is this influence that the actor and animated character have on one another that gets Tom Hanks this honor. Where as live action performances you can use facial expressions to express a feeling, in voice acting, you only have your voice, and if anyone could make a final line like, "So long, Partner," so deep and emotionally touching, it is Tom Hanks.
(Runners-Up: Jeff Bridges for True Grit; Chi Cao for Mao's Last Dancer; Robert Duvall for Get Low; and Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network)

Best Director(s) - Joel and Ethan Coen for True Grit
The Coen's attention to detail with this film was immaculate. They perfectly captured the essence of the simpler time of the Wild West. A time where you could lie, cheat, and steal and the only justice you might get is a bullet in your back. Not only that, they directed a visually striking film with marvelous acting performances, what more could anyone want from the Best Directors of a given year.
(Runners-Up: Albert and Allen Hughes for The Book of Eli; David Yates for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1; Joseph Kosinski for TRON: Legacy; and Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders for How to Train Your Dragon)

Tune in within the next five days or so as I finally compile my Top 10 list of my 10 personal favorite films of 2010!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2010, A Year in Review - Part 3

This has taken me longer to cull than I thought this would, but even in such a scant year for good, quality movies, the few gems that there are seem to be on such a same level that it's hard to distill down the winners and the runners-up, but alas time to continue today with the Below-the-Line awards of 2010:

Best Art Direction - TRON: Legacy
Art Direction is everything from the design of the world in which the story takes place in, to the creatures, all the way to the look of the sets. Typically, this award goes to a movie of the fantasy or sci-fi roots, and last year was no different with this going to Avatar, and this year maintains a similar trend, going to TRON: Legacy. From the architectural designs of the grid, to all of the beyond belief designs of the light-vehicles, going far beyond just lightcycles to lightjets and lightcars, this one had it all.
(Runners-Up: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1, How to Train Your Dragon, Toy Story 3, and True Grit)

Best Costumes and Makeup - True Grit
These two factors are best given together, because the two typically go hand-in-hand. While last year I was split and gave costumes to Sherlock Holmes and Makeup to Star Trek, this year the same movie knocked it out of the park for both. True Grit's costume work was believable of the time period, unlike Westerns of the Golden Age, the costumes didn't look like they just came off the store shelf, and the makeup work was astonishing. Never have muttonchops looked so good, and it's refreshing to see people trekking across the wilderness in a movie that actually look like they haven't showered in days.
(Runners-Up: TRON: Legacy, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1, Alice in Wonderland, and The Book of Eli)

Best Special Effects - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1
Special effects work must be seamlessly integrated in order for it to work and allow the audience to suspend their disbelief. You should never know that what you're looking at isn't real, and that is why Star Trek won last year, and why Harry Potter wins this year. There were some stunning individual moments in the world of special effects this past year, but no movie other than Harry Potter managed to consistently weave the visual effects in with the practical to where majority of the movie you had no clue whether what you were looking at was real or not, and that's the mastery of special effects.
(Runners-Up: TRON: Legacy, The Book of Eli, Inception, and The A-Team)

Best Film Editing - The Social Network
Editing is probably the most crucial tool at a filmmaker's disposal to completely change the audience's reaction to a scene. Whether the audience will feel tense at this moment, or if they'll feel at ease, or even what they think of the characters, depending upon the order of the shots, can change, that is why editing is of such crucial importance. Last year, I went with Star Trek, and this year I'm going a little more low-key with a drama, The Social Network. How do you derive suspense from ordinary circumstances in everyday life, such as legal battles over a company or over a broken friendship? It's the editing that made The Social Network what it was, and that's why it shows up here.
(Runners-Up: The Book of Eli, True Grit, Inception, and Black Swan)

Best Cinematography - True Grit
The image is the first thing we notice about the movie, the tones of the colors, the framing, it all goes through our subconscious and clues us into what kind of movie we're watching. Are we watching a gritty cop drama, or are we watching a lyrical fantasy. Last year I went with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and this year I'm going with Roger Deakins' work on True Grit. Deakins captured the beauty of the Wild West, the lyrical simplicity of the time in a way that was visually striking, and ethereal, and that's why he wins.
(Runners-Up: The Social Network, Inception, The Book of Eli, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1)

Best Musical Score - How to Train Your Dragon
If there is one thing this year was not short off, it was fantastic musical scores. The music within a movie is the final key ingredient to create feeling within an audience, and it is the very thing that allowed Departures to win last year, and it is the very thing that allowed John Powell's fantastically moving score for How to Train Your Dragon to walk away with the prize this year. I'm an old school, movie score purist. I love big orchestral cues that have a sweeping scope, from the big horn blasts of the brass, to the beauty of the strings, but the thing that makes a movie score more than just beautiful music is if the score actually aids the movie in such a way that the visual images would not be the same without the music. While a case could be made for Carter Burwell or Daft Punk (who was the frontrunner till I saw How to Train Your Dragon) the score to How to Train Your Dragon just hit all of the right notes for me, in particular the scene where Hiccup befriends Toothless. It's movie magic that would note have existed if it weren't for Mr. Powell's contributions.
(Runners-Up: True Grit, TRON: Legacy, The Social Network, and Toy Story 3)

Tune in later this week to catch up with my acting and directing honors for 2010!

Monday, January 3, 2011

2010, A Year in Review - Part 2

2010 was a year where the cinema just kind of coasted along on the fumes left from 2009, but that still doesn't mean there aren't movies worth awarding, and that's what we're gonna start doing today with the first three categories of my 2010 awards! Let's get things started, and remember check back in a few days for Part 3 where we'll delve into the winners of the tech categories for this year.

Worst Movie of the Year - Percy Jackson and the Olympians
I always like to start with the worst so that anything beyond this point can just be seen as going up, and for me there was no other movie that missed the mark in 2010 quite like Percy Jackson and the Olympians. I liked the book, but the movie just failed to capture any of the charm that the book had with its deft blend of Greek mythology and modern day adventure with smart, savvy humor. The movie took far too many liberties, left out the main villain of the story, and never took anytime to let anything ever sink in or develop, leading to a large disappointment, but also an almost unwatchable movie in and of itself.
(Runners-up: Black Swan, Endhiran, Due Date, and The Legend of the Guardians-The Owls of Ga'Hoole)

Biggest Disappointment of the Year - Inception
Usually the biggest disappointment isn't a movie I fully hated, it's typically a movie that I found good, but could have been more, and that was the case this year. I didn't hate Inception, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I wasn't disappointed. The movie was entertaining, but never seemed to fully coalesce. Many ideas were proposed, but most were never fully explored, and left the movie kind of searching for an identity. While the action was thrilling, and the overarching story entertaining enough to warrant seeing, the movie's expectations were far greater than what it delivered.
(Runners-Up: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Iron Man 2, Shutter Island, and Black Swan)

Biggest Surprise of the Year - The A-Team
A surprise can be anything, from a movie that I hadn't even heard of till I stepped into the theater, to a movie that I didn't expect to be any good and to only come out loving it, and that was the case with the greatest surprise of 2010, The A-Team. Let's be honest, remakes, especially of old TV shows, are typically horrendous, but this one defied convention. The movie maintained the spirit of the classic TV show while being a fun and entertaining action flick on top of it all. To put it simply, there were few movies this year that I had this much fun watching in a movie theater, and that's why it was the most pleasant surprise of 2010.
(Runners-Up: Mao's Last Dancer, The Karate Kid, It's Kind of a Funny Story, and The Book of Eli)