Sunday, January 30, 2011

No Relation

What to do when you've written and read about the Oscar game ad nauseum but still can't shake it? Why, make up a game of your own, of course! This one's a nominee name game. These unlikely pairs of hopefuls may seem like they were separated at birth, but there's no relation aside from their mutual hunger for Oscar gold.

Joel and Ethan Coen (Director, "True Grit")   /   Danny Cohen (Cinematography, "The King's Speech")

"Inside Job" (Documentary Feature)   /   "Outside the Law" (Foreign Language Film, Algeria)

Christian Colson (Producer - Picture, "127 Hours")   /   Christian Bale (Supporting Actor, "The Fighter")

John Powell (Original Score, "How to Train Your Dragon")   /   Sandy Powell (Costume Design, "The Tempest")

"Inception" (Picture, etc.)   /   "Incendies" (Foreign Language Film, Canada)

Mark Ruffalo (Supporting Actor, "The Kids Are All Right")   /   "The Gruffalo" (Short Film - Animated)

You've Got to be Effing Kidding Me

Thursday, January 27, 2011

'No Strings Attached' Review

A little late to the game with this one, but such is the peril of limited screening schedules not meshing with weekly deadlines. This movie is a lot better than you think it is, almost entirely thanks to the smack-dab-in-her-prime Natalie Portman. I spoke before about my concerns that Natalie's 2011 output might foul up her 2010 Oscar chances. Given her boundless charm (or "charm out the wazoo," as a colleague so aptly noted), neither she nor I have anything to worry about.


Read my full review of "No Strings Attached" (my first official 2011 review, I might add), now online at CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar 2011: Nominations and Prediction Scores


Best motion picture of the year
  • “Black Swan” (Fox Searchlight), A Protozoa and Phoenix Pictures Production, Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
  • “The Fighter” (Paramount), A Relativity Media Production, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
  • “Inception” (Warner Bros.), A Warner Bros. UK Services Production, Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
  • “The Kids Are All Right” (Focus Features), An Antidote Films, Mandalay Vision and Gilbert Films Production, Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
  • “The King’s Speech” (The Weinstein Company), A See-Saw Films and Bedlam Production, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
  • “127 Hours” (Fox Searchlight), An Hours Production, Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
  • “The Social Network” (Sony Pictures Releasing), A Columbia Pictures Production, Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
  • “Toy Story 3″ (Walt Disney), A Pixar Production, Darla K. Anderson, Producer
  • “True Grit” (Paramount), A Paramount Pictures Production, Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
  • “Winter’s Bone” (Roadside Attractions), A Winter’s Bone Production, Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers
      (MY SCORE: 9/10)

Achievement in directing
  • “Black Swan” (Fox Searchlight), Darren Aronofsky
  • “The Fighter” (Paramount), David O. Russell
  • “The King’s Speech” (The Weinstein Company), Tom Hooper
  • “The Social Network” (Sony Pictures Releasing), David Fincher
  • “True Grit” (Paramount), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
      (MY SCORE: 4/5)

Performance by an actor in a leading role
  • Javier Bardem in “Biutiful” (Roadside Attractions)
  • Jeff Bridges in “True Grit” (Paramount)
  • Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network” (Sony Pictures Releasing)
  • Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech” (The Weinstein Company)
  • James Franco in “127 Hours” (Fox Searchlight)
      (MY SCORE: 4/5)

Performance by an actress in a leading role
  • Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right” (Focus Features)
  • Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole” (Lionsgate)
  • Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone” (Roadside Attractions)
  • Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” (Fox Searchlight)
  • Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine” (The Weinstein Company)

       (MY SCORE: 4/5)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
  • Christian Bale in “The Fighter” (Paramount)
  • John Hawkes in “Winter’s Bone” (Roadside Attractions)
  • Jeremy Renner in “The Town” (Warner Bros.)
  • Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right” (Focus Features)
  • Geoffrey Rush in “The King’s Speech” (The Weinstein Company)
      (MY SCORE: 4/5)

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
  • Amy Adams in “The Fighter” (Paramount)
  • Helena Bonham Carter in “The King’s Speech” (The Weinstein Company)
  • Melissa Leo in “The Fighter” (Paramount)
  • Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”(Paramount)
  • Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom” (Sony Pictures Classics)
      (MY SCORE: 4/5)

For the full list of nominees, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Oscar 2011: Nomination Predictions

Sadly, the more and more you keep your eye on the Oscar game, the less and less special the big show seems. That said, I still get extremely giddy when nomination day arrives (two days away!). I'm not always the most reliable pundit, but the predictions keep coming, out of admiration, tradition, obsession, etc. Here's what I'm thinking this year:


Amy Adams, "The Fighter"
Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech"
Mila Kunis, "Black Swan"
Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"
Jacki Weaver, "Animal Kingdom"

I still can't believe Mila Kunis is a serious contender, but here we are. Bonham Carter has been a safe lock since before the race began, yet she poses little threat to the "Fighter" gals, one of whom will win this thing. With a certain young prodigy presumably headed to lead, I'll give the fifth slot to Jacki Weaver, who's the most deserving of the entire group.


Christian Bale, "The Fighter"
Andrew Garfield, "The Social Network"
Jeremy Renner, "The Town"
Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"
Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech"

Not much suspense here, especially since Bale is bound to march to the podium. I don't see any other candidate being vulnerable for a nom, though some are thinking Matt Damon has a shot for his work in "True Grit," while others  think the late Pete Postlethwaite ("The Town") or the recovering Michael Douglas ("Wall Street 2") have an outisde chance. My favorite? Garfield by a mile.


Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"
Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"
Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit"

I know what you're thinking: Steinfeld is going to land in supporting, and, besides, her inclusion here makes this category too, too young. But apart from the solid foursome of Bening, Kidman, Lawrence and Portman, no other actress has emerged as a major contender, and the very surprising success of "True Grit" has only brought more attention to Steinfeld's breakout turn. I'm thinking the voters will nudge her into lead.


Jeff Bridges, "True Grit"
Robert DuVall, "Get Low"
Jesse Eisenberg, "The Social Network"
Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"
James Franco, "127 Hours"

Yes, this is indeed the widely anticipate five, and unless Ryan Gosling can work some miracles, it's the five that will be invited to the Kodak. I can't say I agree that last year's winner Jeff Bridges deserves to be here again, but with all the "True Grit" success, he's practically a lock. Besides, if Steinfeld can get in, there's no way Bridges won't. I'd love to see an Eisenberg win, but no one's taking it from Firth.


Darren Aronofsky, "Black Swan"
David Fincher, "The Social Network"
Tom Hooper, "The King's Speech"
Christopher Nolan, "Inception"
David O. Russell, "The Fighter"

At this point, it seems best to go with the DGA top five, which surprisingly includes David O. Russell rather than the Coen boys. I'm all for Nolan, Aronofsky and Fincher making the cut, and everyone knew Hooper was a sure thing, but Russell nabbing the final slot seems so loony to me. I'd much rather see it go to one of 2010's high-achieving females, like Lisa Cholodenko or, better yet, Debra Granik.


"Black Swan"
"The Fighter"
"The Kids Are All Right"
"The King's Speech"
"The Social Network"
"Toy Story 3"
"The Town"
"True Grit"
"Winter's Bone"

The most obvious snubbee here is "127 Hours," which started strong in the season, then continually lost steam. There's some talk about "Winter's Bone" getting bumped out, though I certainly hope not. This category needs a stronger indie presence desperately. As for the blockbuster end, "The Town" and "Inception" should fill that quota. Possible upset? I could see the doc "Waiting for 'Superman'" squeezing into the list, but it's not bloody likely. Tune in Tuesday morning to find out.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

'The Illusionist' Review

Another splendid animated movie to add to the 2010 list. I don't remember enjoying this many animated films in relative succession in some time. Usually, I'm the grump who's trashing the seemingly harmless family flick. Not lately.

Which isn't to say that Sylvain Chomet's sad and beautiful new film, "The Illusionist," can be easily lumped in with other family-friendly 'toons. Read my full review of the film, now online at CLICK HERE.

The Star Gazer Suite? Thanks, But No Thanks

Allow me to share with you the details of an actual press release that landed in my inbox. It's probably the weirdest film-related release I've received. It's geared toward residents of PA's King of Prussia/Valley Forge region, which is near my home and coverage area, but I imagine it's being promoted nationally throughout the Radisson Hotel chain. The release reads like so:

Director Derek Cianfrance and
Michelle Williams in Motel Hell
"In honor of the recent 'Blue Valentine' movie release, and in conjunction with upcoming Valentine’s Day in February, Radisson Valley Forge is offering guests an opportunity to experience one of our fantasy suites featured in the film as part of our 'Blue Valentine' weekend package. The 'Blue Valentine Package' includes overnight accommodations in the Star Gazer Fantasy Suite, where scenes of the movie were filmed with Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, a complimentary in-room movie, popcorn, champagne and chocolate covered strawberries. The unique galactic décor of Star Gazer Suite is a fun take on a futuristic cosmic theme appealing to sci-fi lovers and adventure seeking couples."

Blue, through and through
Uhh...come again? To sum things up for the uninitiated, the aforementioned Star Gazer suite is where some of "Blue Valentine's" most devastating emotional wounds are enflicted, and it's basically where you see the lead couple's love reach the dreariest depths of irreparability. It's where you see Michelle Williams express such crushing disgust and dissatisfaction with on-screen husband Ryan Gosling that she needs to disassociate herself to even attempt any semblance of lovemaking. It's where she walks out in the early hours without warning or notification, and leaves Gosling heartbroken, hungover and infuriated. Tackily lit and tin-foiled to boot, it's a Misery Suite. Quite honestly, Radisson execs, I would sooner book a room at the Bates Motel or even the Overlook.

In any event, for those of you gloom junkies who find this proposition appealing, and happen to be in the Valley Forge area, you can book the "Blue Valentine Package" by calling 610-878-8495. You can find additional info about the package and the Radisson Hotel Valley Forge by calling 215-972-2734 or emailing Teresa Cheng at

Good luck with all that.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Golden Globe Predictions

As we get to the big night that wishes, with every ounce of its being, it were as big as the Big Night, I'm throwing out a few predictions. I'm only listing the predicted winners. If you want the nominations, you'll need to visit the official site of the Hollywood Far-out Picks Association.

Holy sh*t
BEST PICTURE, DRAMA: "The Social Network"
BEST ACTRESS, DRAMA: Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
BEST ACTRESS, COMEDY/MUSICAL: Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"
BEST ACTOR, DRAMA: Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"
BEST ACTOR, COMEDY/MUSICAL: Johnny Depp, "Alice in Wonderland"
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christian Bale, "The Fighter"
BEST DIRECTOR: David Fincher, "The Social Network"
BEST SCREENPLAY: Aaron Sorkin, "The Social Network"
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, "The Social Network"
BEST ORIGINAL SONG: "I See the Light," from "Tangled"  -- OR -- "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" from "Burlesque."

I'm really hoping for that last one to go to "Burlesque" and thus maybe gift us with a Cher acceptance speech. It's bad enough we can't hear her sing (no performances at the Globes), and somebody's gotta give good speech, considering "T-Bone Streep" isn't up for anything.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

First Pic of Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man

Columbia Pictures today released the first official photo of Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker / Spider-Man. Voila:

I still don't understand why this franchise needs a complete overhaul so close to the release of the initial trilogy, and I'm someone who HATED "Spider-Man 3." But I'm a huge fan of Garfield, who, incidentally, is on the cover of this month's issue of Details (apparently it's Rising "Social Network" Star Magazine Cover Day).

As many know, the new "Spidey" co-stars Emma "easy A" Stone, and is being helmed by Marc Webb, the music video vet behind "(500) Days of Summer." Webb wouldn't have been my choice, but, hey, at least the movie's not in the hands of Julie Taymor.

Mara, Marked

I've seen and dissected the entire Scandinavian "Millenium" trilogy, so visions of Lisbeth Salander are not only nothing new, they're embedded in my noggin. Funny, then, that W magazine's cover shot of Rooney Mara as David Fincher's Salander still managed to elicit a "holy s*%#!" response from me.

It's a striking makeover, and would be regardless of who lies beneath the piercings, tats and leather.

After scolding American audiences for brushing aside the Swedish flicks in favor of the Hollywood-remake hubbub, I'll admit I'm officially looking forward to Fincher's interpretation. I really enjoyed Mara in "The Social Network" (which erased the memory of her lousy work in "A Nightmare on Elm Street"), and the news of Trent Reznor tackling the score is good news indeed (Hey, when it works, it works).

However, there is indeed a very discouraging thought racing through my head: Assuming "Dragon Tattoo" is embraced in a fashion similar to Fincher's other recent work, could you imagine if Mara garnered awards attention after Noomi Rapace got shafted? What a crushing blow that would be.

To check out W's full Rooney Mara gallery, CLICK HERE.

'Blue Valentine' Review

Still reviewing the late offerings of 2010 as they creep into Philadelphia theaters. I feel like a saw "Blue Valentine" half a year ago. But, I tell ya, I much prefer to stick with analyses of the best of the year gone by than wallow in what is always the January dumping ground. This week, I missed screenings for both "The Dilemma" and "The Green Hornet" (due to inclement weather and the boyfriend's birthday, respectively), and it's probably just as well. I'm just gonna keep on pretending it's still 2010 until the announcement of the Oscar nominations.

A brief SPOILER/DISCLAIMER: I totally took the position in this review that Dean and Cindy's relationship indeed ends when the movie does. I know that's not exactly how the film leaves things, and it probably isn't the viewer conclusion the filmmaker intended, but it's how I chose to perceive it. There's enough history and connective tissue between the two to know they won't be out of each other's lives completely, but you don't get the full ache unless you embrace the notion that their love is doomed. Plus, that devastating disrespect Cindy feels toward Dean? So intense that she can hardly bear his touch? In my experience, that's an unwashable stain.

Read my full review of "Blue Valentine," now online at CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Natalie and 'Norbit'

Of sweet girls and "Dreamgirls"
Over at The Film Experience, I concocted a post about Natalie Portman's very crowded (and not so promising) 2011 slate, and how it may damage her chances for Oscar, a la Eddie Murphy's assumed self-destruction with "Norbit" in the 2006 season.

To my delight, the post sparked much discussion among TFE's astute and articulate readers. Part of the reason I wanted to post it was to start a dialogue about the Best Actress race in general, as I haven't heard a whole lot from folks about who they believe is the definite frontrunner. The comments suggest a Portman consensus, but there's still plenty of faith in Bening.

To read the post and the convo that followed, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

'Tron: Legacy' Review

All that kick-ass design ingenuity, and yet, I felt like I watched this movie on autopilot. It's by no means a must-to-avoid, but (and it pains me to say this) that extraordinary test-reel teaser that ran long ago is better than the feature it promotes. *Sniffle*

My better-late-than-never review of "Tron: Legacy" is now online at CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

If I Ran the Oscars...

...I'd do things a little differently. This year, I whipped up an awards-season article for ICON magazine, outlining those films and performances that should be nominated for statuettes, not necessarily those that will. It's a strictly qualitative, politics-free approach to the six major categories. Refreshing, I should hope. The full piece is right here:

Which films and performances deserve to be nominated come Jan. 25? Hint: many of them aren’t the ones you keep hearing about.

By R. Kurt Osenlund

It happens nearly every year: the Academy hands out trophies and nominations to films and folks who shouldn’t have made it past the Golden Globes. Right now, Mila Kunis is dangerously close to adding the permanent label of “Academy Award nominee” to her name for basically showing up on the set of Black Swan. In 2006, Little Miss Sunshine star Alan Arkin rode his industry cred and his stoned-grandpa schtick all the way to a Supporting Actor win. And I adore Sandra Bullock just as much as the next moviegoer (okay, maybe not quite as much), but an Oscar for The Blind Side? Preposcarous.

The Oscars are notorious for throwing bones to flicks that are simply popular, people and things that get carried along by the coattails of their movie’s sweep, and actors whose chief accomplishments aren’t so much great performances, but great career longevity. Too often, the actual quality of the work is an afterthought. Well, not on this ballot. If I ran the Oscars, every nominated performance would have a knock-your-socks-off requirement, and every nominated film would demand a spot in every cineaste’s library, regardless of whether or not the masses sent it to the top of the box office charts. Having had my fill of bogus, undeserved Oscar nominations, I went ahead and compiled my own. You’ll find some selections that will indeed make it to the Kodak next month, but you won’t find any Mila Kunises or Alan Arkins.

(* indicates desired winner)

Amy Adams, The Fighter
Attention is being heaped on the grotesquely over-the-top Fighter performances from Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, but it’s Adams who finds the perfect middle ground between humanity and working-class caricature. As a foul-mouthed barmaid and Mark Wahlberg’s love interest, she at long last plays against type, and does so beautifully.

Dale Dickey, Winter’s Bone
In a backwoods cast populated by local extras, character actress Dale Dickey, who plays the fearsome villainess of this Ozark Mountains tale, is as unrecognizable as her unprofessional co-stars. Her scenes with lead star Jennifer Lawrence are some of the movie’s most intense, and she all but spits venom while illustrating why you shouldn’t go knocking on strangers’ doors.

Kimberly Elise, For Colored Girls
In truth, I could have filled this category with the work of the ladies from For Colored Girls, Tyler Perry’s superbly acted, if grossly melodramatic, ensemble drama. Anika Noni Rose, Loretta Devine, Thandie Newton and Phylicia Rashad all turn in searing performances, but it’s Kimberly Elise who shatters your heart, throwing herself into the bruised skin of a mother whose whole life is stolen by domestic violence.

Dakota Fanning, The Runaways
Anyone who’s followed the career of Dakota Fanning—and that would be all of us—can’t help but delight in her turn as rocker Cherie Currie in The Runaways, a routine, but wrongfully underrated, band biopic. Leaving the little girl aside but retaining a necessary naïveté, she wows as a typical downward-spiral star who’s anything but typical when she takes the stage.

*Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
There’s a moment near the climax of Animal Kingdom—a movie already defined by shocking turns—when the whole dynamic of the story changes. It’s the moment Jacki Weaver takes over. Playing the Lady Macbeth-matriarch of an unraveling Australian crime family, Weaver embodies hidden domestic terror, showing a capacity for evil that goes frighteningly deep.

*Niels Arestrup, A Prophet
Unless you’re Marlon Brando, the role of a mob boss practically requires you to overact just to assert your superiority. But French actor Niels Arestrup doesn’t even seem to try as the prison-bound ringleader in A Prophet, which uses his brilliant work to create enough tension for ten movies. Like lead star Tahar Rahim, Arestrup molds a character that sees a full—and fully plausible—arc of change, going from a solid rock to a pathetic shell in just over two hours.

Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
The heart of a movie that’s very much defined by a palpable, ceaseless pulse, rising star Andrew Garfield comes within inches of being the MVP of The Social Network, playing co-creator Eduardo Saverin as a young man ever-struggling to put his backbone in front of his crushed friendship and battered ego. His climactic outburst is one of the year’s most unforgettable emotional moments.

John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
Like Dale Dickey, John Hawkes both vanishes and stands out in the cast of Winter’s Bone, bringing fierce authenticity to the role of the protagonist’s volatile, mysterious uncle. Deftly walking the precarious line between friend and foe, Hawkes is utterly essential to the movie’s mounting suspense, and his eventual valor comes without the slightest hint of force or sentimentality.

Ewan McGregor, I Love You Phillip Morris
Pop-culture history has certainly shown that if there’s one way to play a gay stereotype, it’s to pull the flamboyance card and never look back. But as the ignorant loverboy in this campy crime comedy, Ewan McGregor is an adorable puppy dog of starryeyed sincerity, both capital-G gay and capital-B believable. He steals the movie right out of Jim Carrey’s rubbery fingers.

Miles Teller, Rabbit Hole
A no-name first-timer with the instincts of a veteran, Miles Teller is heartbreaking in the play-based drama Rabbit Hole, very honestly portraying the remorseful teen who accidentally kills Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhardt’s young son with his car. Teller’s scenes with Kidman are testaments to the healing power of forgiveness, and his contribution serves as the crux of the movie’s considerable emotional impact.

Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
A breakthrough performance if ever there was one, Jennifer Lawrence’s turn as Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone is a paradigm of natural, skillful transformation, showing a pretty young starlet morphed into a rough-edged, iron-willed crusader. On the hunt for the father who’ll make or break her family’s salvation, Ree is an indelible modern heroine, and Lawrence shocks you with how uncompromising a human portrait she creates.

Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Vincere
A remarkable film that far too few people even heard of, let alone saw, Vincere tells the story of Mussolini’s scorned ex-wife, and at its center, showcases a powerhouse performance from Italian siren Giovanna Mezzogiorno. As the jilted, institutionalized, and historically erased lead character, Mezzogiorno delivers the year’s finest feat of scenery-chewing, turning Lifetime theatrics into high art.

*Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Beyond her striking physical transformation (months of training turned her into nothing but muscle, bone and sinew), Natalie Portman, as psychotic prima ballerina Nina Sayers, has more dreams, horrors and insecurities flowing across her face than any other actress in 2010. It’s incredible how effectively she brings out every inner fiber of her tortured character, and even more incredible when she finally brings out her
inner demon.

Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
For one of the year’s definitive heroes of fiction, we can thank late author Stieg Larsson. But for one of the year’s definitive screen characters, the praise belongs to Swedish-Icelandic actress Noomi Rapace, who’s all focused ferocity as everyone’s favorite goth hacker, Lisbeth Salander. A born camera subject, Rapace has complete control over the entire Millenium film trilogy—it’s never stronger than when she’s on screen.

Tilda Swinton, I Am Love
If ever there were a question as to the limits of Tilda Swinton’s gifts, it’s firmly silenced with I Am Love, a sweeping feast that sees the near-peerless chameleon portray a lovestruck Milanese trophy wife, spouting potent lines in Italian, but with a slight Russian accent. There are few actors on the planet who can go as bone-deep into a character as Swinton can, and, here, she makes it look as effortless as ever.

*Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Faced with the challenge of wrapping his head and tongue around the ingenious, lightning-quick dialogue by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, Jesse Eisenberg doesn’t even blink, playing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with the defects of a mad scientist, the dogged arrogance of a pimp and the verbal dexterity of a talking machine gun. Love him, hate him, respect him, detest him, the Zuckerberg on screen will go down as
one of the great enterprising antiheroes of the cinema, with no small amount of credit due to the actor who plays him.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Shutter Island
Leonardo DiCaprio’s work in the twisty thriller Shutter Island is the best he’s done under masterly mentor Martin Scorsese, which is to say, of course, that it’s the best work he’s done, period. DiCaprio is never better than when he’s writhing in mental and emotional anguish, and no one is more capable of bringing that out than Scorsese. Here, their partnership yields smashing results, with DiCaprio virtually falling to pieces
on screen.

Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
A profoundly sympathetic actor, Colin Firth tops his career-topping work in last year’s A Single Man by very humanly and heroically embodying a stuttering monarch in this otherwise over-primped British biography. Using the nuances of frailty and disability to create extraordinary depth of character, Firth does justice not to a person, but to a whole kind of person.

James Franco, 127 Hours
How do you make a feature-length film about one man stuck in one place into a gripping entertainment? First, hire visionary director Danny Boyle. Then, hire endlessly charismatic actor James Franco, who as ill-fated climber Aron Ralston flexes his dramatic and comedic muscles with equal expertise. Ralston is no cry-for-me charity case; he’s a funny and reckless assemblage of flaws coming to terms with what it means to be
alive. The way Franco makes you feel that is a triumph in itself.

Zohar Strauss, Eyes Wide Open
A beauty of understated anguish, Zohar Strauss’s lead performance in the little-seen Israeli drama Eyes Wide Open joins Gabourey Sidibe’s Precious and Heath Ledger’s Ennis Del Mar in the annals of great portrayals of characters whose fears and identity issues gnaw at them from the inside. As a married Jew who falls hard for another man in his highly orthodox community, Strauss often says everything without saying anything at all, conveying desperation that’s impossible not to pity.

Ben Affleck, The Town
Who would have ever dreamed in a million years that Ben Affleck had a movie like The Town inside of him? Forget Gone Baby Gone, the former heartthrob’s uneven directorial debut. With The Town, a superior piece of popular pulp filmmaking, Affleck scores a major coups as director, co-writer and star. The extent of the project’s overall success is astonishing considering who made it. It nears the quality of urban crime sagas by Michael Mann or Martin Scorsese.

*David Fincher, The Social Network
The thought of a movie about Facebook has BORING written all over it. But in the increasingly masterful hands of David Fincher, it’s an exhilarating, topical, wryly funny, dizzingly intelligent and instantly classic dramatic adventure, more wholly fulfilling than any other movie this year. A boundlessly cool 20-something in a 48-year-old’s body, Fincher is as a much hip stylist as he is a wise inventor. His vision is awesome.

Debra Granik, Winter’s Bone
Sometimes all you need is an air-tight, bare bones story and an unwavering, inflexible guide to tell it. Already noteworthy for her gritty debut, Down to the Bone, Debra Granik works small miracles in Winter’s Bone, her spellbinding sophomore effort that features a vivid sense of place and a tremendous sense of dread that defy accurate description. She drives her affecting themes home without ever stirring up mush, and
there’s never a moment when she doesn’t have you hooked.

Luca Guadagnino, I Am Love
The sensory stimulation Luca Guadagnino creates in his luscious, intoxicating melodrama, I Am Love, is sometimes so strong you’d swear you can smell and taste the movie. He is an amazing filmmaker fueled by beauty and earth-rumbling emotion, and the swells of feeling he incites in the viewer establish a highly unique, almost unconscious, connection to the story and characters. You feel what they feel (and smell what they smell, and taste what they taste).

Christopher Nolan, Inception
Christopher Nolan turned to the work of Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott and The Wachowski Brothers when crafting his heady, ridiculously entertaining dreamscape-thriller Inception. Without question, legions of future filmmakers will reference Nolan's creations when concocting their own mind-bending movies. He is a true mastermind. With Inception, he shows grand-scale ambition and the savvy to incorporate his very style of craftsmanship into the fabric of his film. He’s almost singlehandedly improving mainstream, big-budget cinema.

Black Swan
For allowing high and low art to dance together beautifully, and for succeeding in every way.

Blue Valentine
For being the love story of the year, naked and honest and immensely devastating.

Exit Through the Gift Shop
For being not only the year’s best documentary, but its funniest and most indefinable skewering of consumer culture.

The Kids Are All Right
For being a funny and touching depiction of modern family that’s entirely comfortable with itself and at once fresh and vintage.

I Am Love
For delivering a two-hour gush of pure cinema, and for being, in terms of its ability to stimulate the senses, one of the most accomplished films of all time.

For being the year’s single best blockbuster, and for proving popular films can have big brains, too.

A Prophet
For bringing compelling novelty to a constantly recycled genre, and for offering the year’s most careful and fruitful character development.

*The Social Network
For expanding upon its instant relevance to become an instant, entirely lag-free classic, and for being so overwhelmingly good the ending’s arrival is both a letdown and a shock.

The Town
For being the year’s most pleasant surprise, and for never letting you down, no matter how much you expect it to.

Winter’s Bone
For being far and away the year’s best American independent, and for doing so much with so very little.

*This article was previously published in the January 2011 issue of ICON magazine. It has been reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

In Memoriam: Pete Postlethwaite

This is a truly unfortunate loss. I adore Pete Postlethwaite. And for the record, I'm a little offended by the decision of the AP, et. al. to play up the "ugly" angle in this dynamite actor's obit articles. Personally, I've always found him to be "unconventionally handsome," not to mention "exorbitantly talented."

A snapshot of his (recent) life in pictures:

Clockwise from top left: "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," "The Usual Suspects," "Alien 3," "In the Name of the Father," "The Town," "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet"

"And like that...he's gone."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Suck it Up

For my third contribution to Nathaniel Rogers's Film Experience Blog, I compiled yet another year-end list, this time counting down the scenes that really choked me up in 2010. Why only 9 scenes? As mentioned in the post, crying in films is rare for me. But oh, how I love it. To check out the reach-for-the-Kleenex collection, CLICK HERE.