Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Moneyball - Officially a big deal

I may have to eat my words. With $19.5M US Box Office in its first few weeks & a 94% Fresh rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, Bennet Miller & Brad Pitt's Moneyball has officially become a big deal & a bona fide Oscar contender. Perhaps I underestimated America's connection with baseball & underdogs taking on the system. Plus Phillip Seymour Hoffman is never a bad thing.

Take Shelter - Trailer

A meditation on apocalyptic angst & madness, & a vehicle for Michael Shannon's perfectly honed strangeness.

Monday, September 26, 2011

For Your Consideration - Tilda Swinton's awesomeness

I Am Love - 2009:

Julia - 2008:

Talking about Michael Clayton - 2007:

Stephanie Daley & The Deep End after the cut:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fincher's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - New Trailer

New, full-length trailer for David Fincher's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:

and for good measure - the first teaser trailer:

The Whistleblower - Trailer

It's all about Rachel Weisz's performance. Hoping it leans more towards Meryl Streep in Silkwood than a John Grisham conspiracy novel.

And Weisz's other acclaimed performance this year - as Hester, a woman of privilege in post-WWII Britain who walks out on her High Court Judge husband to move in with her ex-RAF pilot lover, only to lose the affection of both and, consequently, her grip on reality, in Terence Davies' The Deep Blue Sea (no relation to Samuel L Jackson shark movie whatsoever):

Best Actress Contenders

Serious Contenders:

Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs
Glenn Close's passion project has been described (I forget by whom) as Boys Don't Cry for BBC1. After the initial hype, based on Close's reputation as an actress & the striking authenticity of her transformation when the first photos leaked, some were disappointed by the film when it actually opened & demoted Close's performance from Oscar-assured to perhaps-not-a-nominee. Others, however, insist the Oscar is still hers to lose. Why? Mainly because she is one of the most reliably astonishing actresses working without an Oscar on her mantelpiece, partly because she is well admired in the industry as a hard working actor / producer / philanthropist, and lastly because of her performance. What some seem to complain about is precisely what others celebrate about her performance - it is quiet, subtle & restrained in a film that is quiet, subtle & restrained. Close has done enough (Patty Hewes is an obvious, recent example) to prove she has no trouble expressing strong, volatile characters, so if she plays Albert as a buttoned up gentleman who keeps everything inside, it is deliberate and what the character requires. Perhaps the absence of a big showy scene where it all comes spilling out is what put some off, but there is nothing stopping a subtle performance from being brilliant. Mainly because she is Glenn Close, she is still the front runner.

Viola Davis - The Help
She is the co-lead with Emma Stone, so it is still slightly unclear if Viola Davis will be campaigned as lead or supporting actress, but her performance as a fully-rounded woman, who happens to be maid in narrow-minded 50s suburban America - expected to raise the kids while the mothers have tea parties, but not quite human enough to share the same toilet - should get her nominated either way. In lead, she'll face off against Glenn Close, Michelle Williams & probably Meryl Streep for the win. In supporting she'll probably be the one to beat. Either way, it's good to see her deliver on the promise of her riveting single-scene performance in Doubt.

Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn

Still hot on the radar after last year's nomination for Blue Valentine, Michelle Williams takes on a Hollywood icon and has everyone waiting with bated breath to see if she can breathe life into the ultimate platinum bimbo. Marilyn Monroe was certainly not as ditsy as the persona she played so well, she merely knew how to show people what they wanted to see. Williams is an intelligent and sensitive enough actress to know that Monroe was all about what was going on behind the curvy exterior, but she'll have to marry that with a physicality with far more strut and flash than the brittle, withdrawn characters she's made her name playing. There is no reason to doubt she'll pull it off & when she does, the Academy should be falling over themselves to praise her.  

Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady 
It's Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher, which should equate to Oscar, but - it's in a film by the director of Mamma Mia! and feels a touch too obvious a next move for Meryl, in my opinion. I'm feeling more of a Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age kind of highly impressive but ultimately hollow hammy-ness than a Helen Mirren in The Queen kind of subtle, instrinsic transformation. Which is to say that she will obviously be nominated, unless the movie really blows, but we will know deep down that she shouldn't win.

Tilda Swinton - We Need to Talk About Kevin
It is a strange thing that the Academy was so eager  to award Tilda Swinton for her supporting turn as nervous villain Karen Crowder in Michael Clayton, but gave her no attention for her sensational subsequent leading roles in 2008's Julia (as an aging alcoholic who agrees to fake-kidnap an acquaintance's son for a share in the ransom money) and 2009's I Am Love (as a rich matriarch falling in love with a man who is not her husband, in grand Italian melodramatic style). It is hard to tell if those oversights will lead to Swinton finally being recognised this year for her gruelling performance as a mother struggling to feel affection for her psychopathic son, or if they are a sign of more overlooking to come. She lost Best Actress at Cannes to Kirsten Dunst, but her performance has been uniformly praised by critics so far.

Rooney Mara - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Aka the girl who dumped Jesse Eisenberg at the start of The Social Network. Rooney Mara's appearance in The Social Network was brief, but pitch perfect, so it's easy to see why Fincher was excited to transform her into the ultimate cyberpunk anti-heroin, Lisbeth Salander, for his American adaptation of the smash-hit Swedish novel. Mara's soft features seem more suited to restrained period drama, but she seems to have jumped at the chance to unleash her inner raging goth and, from the testimony of those who have seen the first eight minutes of footage released by Fincher, her performance is  furiously intense and right in line with Fincher's dark, gritty sensibilities. The Academy overlooked Noomi Rapace in the same role (and it's sequels) last year, but it is rare for a foreign language performance to be nominated. If Fincher's film is a hit, the Academy may want to take notice and show recognition for the most infamous literary heroin of the decade.

Elizabeth Olson - Martha Marcy May Marlene
Yes. An Olsen sister. Elizabeth Olsen has become an overnight indie sensation thanks to the Sundance raves for her performance in the very strange psychological thriller, Martha Marcy May Marlene. The logical assumption is that she should follow in the footsteps of recent Sundance it girls who ended up with Oscar nominations: Carey Mulligan for An Education, Gabby Sabide for Precious & last year's Jennifer Lawrence for Winter's Bone. The difference is that all three of those ladies were in films that went on to be Best Picture nominees. Martha Marcy May Marlene seems far from a Best Picture contender, so Elizabeth Olsen may be the one to break the Sundance track record.    

Charlize Theron - Young Adult
Jason Reitman's last two films were both far better than they looked on paper, and he directed both his stars (Ellen Page, Juno & George Clooney, Up in the Air) to well-deserved Oscar nominations. Now he has teamed up again with Juno scribe, Diablo Cody & signed up Oscar winner Charlize Theron to play the lead  - a divorced & maturity-stunted fiction writer who returns to her hometown to steal her high school boyfriend from his wife and kids. It could all go horribly wrong, but I have enough faith in Reitman & Theron to trust that there will be plenty to appreciate. Theron is usually at her best when she releases a heavy drama together with a silly action movie (Exhibit A: Monster / Italian Job; Exhibit B: North Country / Aeon Flux; Exhibit C: The Burning Plan / Hancock). This year, she has no silly action movie in the wings, but Young Adult is something different to the films the have put her on the map - a comedy / drama that gives her the chance to create a character with humour, depth & no uglifying make up.

Maybe Contenders:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

J Edgar - Trailer

Hot off the presses:

Can't help thinking of The Aviator, but that's not a bad thing. The aging make up looks potentially dubious, but we'll see. I really like the idea of Judi Dench working with Clint Eastwood. Looks good.

I'm putting the poster after the cut, cause it's really ugly:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Emmy Winners!

Winners indicated in bold. An interesting, unpredictable mix, with some welcome surprises - Kyle Chandler for Friday Night Lights, Melissa McCarthy for Mike & Molly - and some lamentable oversights - missing the last chance to give Steve Carrell at least one Emmy for seven great years of being Michael Scott on The Office. But then, they also gave Emmys to Peter Dinklage & Margo Martindale, so there's more good than bad. 

Outstanding Drama Series
 Boardwalk Empire
Friday Night Lights
Game of Thrones
The Good Wife
*Mad Men

Outstanding Comedy Series
Big Bang Theory
*Modern Family
The Office
Parks and Recreation
30 Rock

Outstanding TV Miniseries or Movie
Cinema Verite
*Downton Abbey
The Kennedys
Mildred Pierce
The Pillars of the Earth
Too Big To Fail

Outstanding Actress in a Drama
Kathy Bates, Harry’s Law
Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights
Mireille Enos, The Killing
Mariska Hargitay, Law and Order: SVU
*Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men

Outstanding Actor in a Drama
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
*Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
John Hamm, Mad Men
Hugh Laurie, House
Timothy Olyphant, Justified

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Laura Linney, The Big C
*Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly
Martha Plimpton, Raising Hope
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Louis C.K., Louie
Steve Carrell, The Office
Johnny Galecki, The Big Bang Theory
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
*Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory

More after the cut:

Shame - Clip

Clip of Michael Fassbender being a slick, creepy bastard in Steve McQueen's Venice Best Actor winning Shame. There is a painful desperation to his shameless pursuit, and a clear sense that the woman, although clearly enticed by Brandon's advances, knows she is narrowly escaping a snare.

The Descendants - Trailer + Q & A

Alexander Payne is a master, with the incisive, bittersweet Election, About Schmidt, Sideways and masterful five minute short 14e Arrondisement, for Paris, Je t'aime behind his name to prove it. Count me in as very excited for his latest, The Descendants.

Sasha Stone caught an early screening at Telluride film fest, and posted her feedback via Awards Daily. The good news is that The Descendants is apparently "as good as Sideways" and "George Clooney's best performance".

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Best Actor Contenders

Serious Contenders:

George Clooney - The Descendants
George Clooney has been on fine form since winning his Oscar for Syriana, turning in one grippingly understated performance after the other. The Descendants is the latest from dramedy legend Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, Sideways), and Clooney's performance as suddenly-single dad Matt King, trying to connect with his daughters and confront the news of his wife's affair, while taking a trip through Hawaii, is said to be one of his best and most heartbreaking. Oscar nomination assured.

Leonardo DiCaprio - J Edgar
No-one has seen Clint Eastwood's J Edgar Hoover biopic, but based solely on the strong reputation of its Director and Star, as well as the persona and reportedly sordid private life of the famous FBI Director, as penned by Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black (Milk), the Best Actor Oscar is already considered his to lose. Of course its far too early to make such predictions, performance unseen, and early hype can be difficult to live up to, but provided the film delivers, the match of character and actor should play right into Oscar's hands.

Jean Dujardin -The Artist
The Cannes Best Actor winner is the charming centre of a film the Academy is sure to love - a sweet, old-school black-&-white silent film about show business & movie making. He won over the french and, unless the film flops in the States, is sure to charm his way onto many Academy voters' ballots.

Gary Oldman - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Simply because George Smiley is such an intriguing literary character, Cold War espionage dramas are so easy to like and because Gary Oldman, despite shifting from raging psychos (Leon) to gentle law-enforcers (The Dark Knight), has never been an Oscar nominee. Not once. Not even for Sid & NancyPrick Up Your EarsJFK or The Contender, not to mention his long-list of iconic crazies & oddballs. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy gives him the chance to lead a large, fantastic cast with a subtle complex performance. Time will tell if it will be enough.

Brad Pitt - Moneyball
I frankly don't know why Brad Pitt's performance in Moneyball is being considered Oscar-potential. He has made good movies post-Troy, and has stretched himself as an actor, but this true story of a Baseball manager's apparently revolutionary endeavor to select players based on computer-generated statistics, and upset the order of the Baseball world, seems highly underwhelming. The only things backing up the excitement is the involvement of Capote director Bennet Miller and last year's Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin, as co-writer. Pitt will, of course, bring on the charm, the winning determination & the legendary smile and Terrence Mallick's Tree of Life will ensure he is already on everyone's radar, but I still don't see it being one of the year's strongest performances.

Ryan Gosling - Drive / The Ides of March

Gosling's intense, understated & largely silent performance in Drive seems destined to be an iconic standout in his already-impressive resume, but it could be too edgy / subtle / cool for Academy voters. His lead performance in George Clooney's political thriller Ides of March is yet to be seen but has all the makings of an Oscar-friendly journey from idealism to compromise. Gosling is an exceptional young actor who was overlooked for his astonishing performance in last year's Blue Valentine but is fast becoming impossible to ignore.

Michael Fassbender - Shame / Dangerous Method / Jane Eyre

Michael Fassbender burned his way to critical acclaim as Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen's 2008 hunger strike drama, Hunger, and into the public consciousness as slick, doomed Lt Archie Hicox in Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds. And he has been very busy since. Just this year, he has impressed critics as the bitter man who becomes Magneto in X-Men: First Class, an intense and untamed Rochester in Jane Eyre, and groundbreaking psychoanalyst Carl Jung in David
Cronenberg's psychological drama,
A Dangerous Method. But it was his turn as Brandon, a troubled sex addict negotiating endless sexual escapades & his complicated relationship with his troubled sister (Carey Mulligan) in Steve McQueen's latest, Shame, that saw him win Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival and step into the Oscar golden circle. Provided voters can stomach the edgy subject matter, his performance in Shame is sure to put him on the map.   

Maybe Contenders:

Winnie - may be good after all

I may have to eat my words about Darrell Roodt's upcoming Winnie biopic. Sasha Stone from Awards Daily saw it at TIFF and has nice things to say about Jennifer Hudson's performance:

Winnie might not win Hudson a second Oscar, but all those who scoffed at Hudson back in 2006 and deemed that she was not a serious and/or talented actress will surely eat crow after attending a screening of Winnie. (However, the film could score Hudson her first Genie nod.) Hudson dives into her subject with a dual edge and reveals the bipolar sides of Winnie, both humane and maniacal. She does her subject justice and she gives a performance that refuses to shy away from the controversy of the former Mrs. Mandela. Most importantly, Hudson wears the suffering of Winnie’s thirty-odd years of political power, so even when Winnie becomes more like a devious mobster than a devoted philanthropist, her humanity rings true.

She does conclude by saying this film itself is a bit uneven, but if they captured Winnie's political prowess as well as her, well, mobster craziness, then they've already done a better job than I expected. Still not sure I could sit through Terrence Howard's accent, though... Read Sasha's full review here.

Beginners - Trailer

From Thumbsucker director Mike Mills, with Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent & Christopher Plummer - funny, lyrical, literate & messy: Beginners.

Attack the Block - Trailer

One of 2011's most celebrated films is an original British indie pitting authentic, heartfelt inner city teenagers against monsters from outer space. From the producers of Shaun of the Dead. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Michel Gondry's uneven but thoroughly charming Be Kind Rewind coined the term 'sweded' for lovingly scrappy home-made versions of popular films, and Empire Magazine's annual Done in 60 Seconds competition popularised the one minute versions that can be found all over YouTube.

While most settle for humorous mash-ups, and some get friends and family to rush through an assortment of scenes, some manage to find a truly ingenious, fresh angle that encapsulates the essence of the film in miniature form.

Some of my favourites:

There Will Be Blood re-imagined as a video game which retains pretty much the entire plot, down to the milkshake

Inception, distilled in paper cutout animation

A very clever Social Network parody

Lego Die Hard

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Charlie Chaplin & Hans Zimmer make humanity soar

This is just beautiful. Charlie Chaplin's stirring speech in The Great Dictator paired with Hans Zimmer's soaring Inception score. Mash ups are usually good for a smirk, but this blew me away.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Warrior - Trailer

The trailer feels a bit cheesy, and the film too close on the heels of last year's brothers / boxing drama The Fighter, but Warrior is getting glowing reviews wherever it goes - Variety's Jeff Sneider calls it a Best Picture contender, while Nick Nolte's performance is being hailed as the most heart breaking of his career. 

Starring Animal Kingdom's broody Joel Edgerton & Bronson / Inception's super cool Tom Hardy (soon to be Bane in The Dark Knight Rises) as estranged brothers from a broken home taking on the world of Mixed Martial Arts Fighting for the cash that goes with the title prize. Tommy (Hardy) is an angry, ex-marine blazing his way to the finals. Brendon is his older, more sensible, brother who takes to the ring to supplement his teacher's salary and provide for his family. When Brendon becomes an unexpected, underdog favourite, the brothers end up facing off against each other, and their damaged past. Nick Nolte is their dad, a washed-up alcoholic and ex-fighter that Tommy enlists as his coach. Hardy and Edgerton are said to be electric, but Nolte steals the show.  

Winnie the Pooh vs Winnie the movie

Two Winnies will be vying for our attention at the multiplex this year - guess which one I am more excited for...

First up, Disney takes another stab at 2D animation, and draws again from the oft-visited Winnie the Pooh franchise. With Pixar's John Lasseter now making creative decisions at Disney, there is reason to believe this Winnie the Pooh will do more than just cash in on its title, but actually aim for the charm and sensitivity of AA Milne's source stories. Based on five stories from Milne's The House at Pooh Corner and David Benedictus' Return to the Hundred Acre Wood that have never been adapted before. 

And then, Jennifer Hudson takes on Winnie Mandela & Terrence Howard takes on Nelson. I shudder in fear. Winnie is too complex and controversial a character to be taken on lightly and Nelson is too iconic to be turned into an embarrassing accent performance. This is not a great trailer and I am far from convinced that this will have any of the fire or depth that it should. Jennifer Hudson looks as dry and wooden as a doringboom in the Serengeti  & someone really should have taught Terrence Howard how to say "Amandla!". I think Howard is an exceptional actor and therefore I will avoid this movie and retain my high opinion of him. Hudson's Oscar is hiding in shame.

To cheer you up, here's some more Winnie the Pooh :

Monday, September 5, 2011

Amazing Spiderman Trailer

First trailer for the new Amazing Spiderman. I'm thrilled at Andrew Garfield's casting (although I hope it does his career good), but I'm not sure I'm convinced a new series reboot is actually necessary. Sam Raimi really only messed up the third instalment. I'm not feeling the web fluid coming out the spine, but the first person POV camera work on the building leaping is a nice touch.

Johnny Depp in The Rum Diary - Trailer

Johnny Depp returns to the worlds of Hunter S Thompson (he played Raoul Duke aka Hunter S Thompson in Terry Gilliam's fairly bonkers adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and rum (Pirates of the Caribbean ad infinitum). 

The trailer doesn't let on whether Depp & director Bruce Robinson nail the tone but, done right, it should be a meaty part of Depp.

Hunger Games - First Trailer

The first trailer for The Hunger Games, starring last year's young Oscar-nominee, Jennifer Lawrence. Based on Suzanne Collins' sci-fi novel, the first in a trilogy about Katniss Everdeen, a teenager living in a dystopian future who volunteers to take her sister's place in The Hunger Games, an annual televised event where each of the 12 districts of what used to be North America are required to produce one boy and one girl to fight to the death to demonstrate the reach of the government's jurisdiction over its people. Interesting premise. Not an extremely enticing teaser trailer.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Nouvelle Vague

Sweet montage tribute to the cool & irreverent new wave french films of the 60s.

A Certain Tendency in Modern French Cinema from Jose Gallegos on Vimeo.

Danielle Radcliffe in The Woman in Black

Daniel Radcliffe leaves Harry Potter behind and takes on a classic British ghost yarn. From newly re-established Horror studio, Hammer Film Productions.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 - Review

Deathly Hallows Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off, obviously, but although it maintains the slick  production and gets into the really interesting parts of the plot, it still seems somehow incomplete. Naturally this makes sense, as it is one movie in two parts, but while the two halves are crafted to stand well independently, the momentum of the full story feels interrupted. Where Part 1 felt somehow light on plot (despite being full of incident), Part 2 seems to pick up right in the middle of stakes being heightened. But once it gets going, it is a satisfying conclusion to the 10 year series.

The momentum quickly picks up with the plan to break into goblin-guarded Gringotts Bank to find the Horcrux hidden in Bellatrix Lestrange's vault, and the entire sequence inside Gringotts, with its Indiana Jonesey tunnels, caves and rollercoaster cart tracks, is great fun. After that, the film mainly builds up to the epic climax, with Hogwarts fully under siege, and under control of the ambiguously loyal Severus Snape. We briefly get to see Maggie Smith's Professor McGonagall in action and, while the Professors do their bit, its the students who pick up swords and wands to protect Hogwarts - often to death. A bold move on Rowling's part. Beyond the main trio of Harry, Ron & Hermione, it is refreshing to see a troop of young, unknown British actors take on the high stakes epic of battle. Matthew Lewis, in particular, impresses as previously awkward & clumsy Neville Longbottom, coming into his own as a Hogwarts hero.

Ralph Fiennes finally gets to inhabit Voldemort in all his glory, and he delivers a strange, eerie beast indeed. Never lacking in menace, he gains much traction from always keeping the dark lord eccentric, left of centre and dangerously unpredictable. Danielle Radcliffe faces off against him with his usual grit and intensity. The film's biggest emotional blow, however, does not come from the heat of battle or in the long-awaited face off between Harry & Voldemort, but when Yates takes a side step to tell Snape's full story. It is a stirring yarn that finally puts a lid on the serious, sinister and ambiguous Severus Snape, and Alan Rickman plays it perfectly, as always. Of all the epic things that take place, it is Snape's story that resonated the most when leaving the theatre.

In terms of the source novels, Rowling shows how carefully and well plotted her series was by  bringing together all the strands she set up in her previous novels. The one thing I felt she underused is the Deathly Hallows of the title, although they feature prominently, their impact could have been made far more significant. Yates, too, falters slightly in failing to clearly explain the significance of the Elder Wand's allegiances, despite carefully setting up the sequence of events that determine its ultimate fate as far back as the Half-Blood Prince. He also introduces a subplot about Dumbledore's family history that serves to illustrate Rowling's consistent commitment to well-rounded heroes & villains who are neither purely good or purely evil (even Voldemort is portrayed as being lost, hurt & without love, rather than simply evil), but is never taken further or concluded.

Kudos to Yates, though, for retaining the largely metaphysical dialogue between Harry and Dumbledore in Kings Cross station (aka Limbo), although Rowling's resolution feels merely convenient without the film properly justifying the logic behind it. Long-devoted Potter fans are also given a sly pat on the back when Dumbledore tells Harry that things are no less real for occurring only in his head.

A satisfying, effective conclusion to an epic series, with a few holes, some surprises and just a slight lack of urgency.

Oscar potential: Some wish it would be a Best Picture contender on behalf of the series, but I just don't think its a strong enough stand-alone film to make the Academy take it seriously; Visual Effects are likely; Art Direction is a possibility (think Gringotts), the Make Up team deserves a nod for turning Ralph Fiennes into Voldemort, although make up has a hard time being recognised if it chiefly applies to one character only; possibly Sound Mixing & Sound Editing; & could Fiennes be taken seriously enough to get a Supporting Actor nomination? Probably not, but it would be good fun if he did.