Friday, December 31, 2010

Until Another Day Begins...

Dear Audience,

It's been a good fifteen months since I started writing, and when I came to my end of the year segments last year, I didn't really have much of anything worth saying. I'd say the work I'm most proud of this year is everything I've done since August. I think I really hit my stride around that period, and the feedback has been both positive and negative. On November 16th, I woke up to a rather unfriendly post from an anonymous reader, and I haven't responded to it until now because I was worried that I'd say something crass or dumb in the emotional rush I was in. So what I have to say in response, if I have anything to say, is "Thank you. I was worried that I was losing touch with my core audience, and you gave me proof that I wasn't."

I've never expected this blog to be for the typical and cliched masses of the world, which should've been made pretty clear by my negative responses to films like Avatar, Despicable Me, and The Twilight Saga. I disagree with several opinions at times, and I'm very passionate about my own opinions. To find some random person who uses cruel and unseemly language to criticize my work doesn't surprise me. There are people who are ready to hear from my point of view, and those are the people I'm most thankful for this year. If I have a New Year's resolution of my own, it's to have my audience be even more outspoken about what they think. I want to know what you think, and I enjoy responding to your thoughts. The commentators I thank the most this year are Stuart Ross, Ana, Theo, Jose Salvador, CloudPuncher, David, and all the other anonymous readers of the site.

The Weekend Report: The Wicked Flee

What? There are absolutely no new releases this weekend? Well that makes another one of these posts seem rather superfluous, but I might as well do it anyway. There were a lot of under-appreciated films released this year, mostly on account of the fact that people were stupid with their time and money and decided to see The Last Airbender, Yogi Bear, and Little Fockers. As a matter of fact, at the end of this, I'm going to give you a list of all the films you shouldn't see. There are better ways for you to use your time, and that's pretty much the inspiration for this series.

Among the early and unappreciated films of the year was Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer. It's gotten a somewhat strong following from critics this year, but there's a broader audience that I believe would truly embrace it if they gave it a chance. Another film people were afraid to give a chance until it was released was How to Train Your Dragon. I'm not sure if there are still people out there who haven't seen it out of disgust with Dreamworks' other features, but it's definitely worth checking out. There were also a great many films that inexplicably bombed at the box-office. MacGruber was never expected to do well, but it's an extremely funny film for what it is. It's not exactly good, but it's entertaining.

Obituary 2010

Sally Menke (1953-2010)

Fragility, Bravery, and Sexiness: Best Female Performances of 2010

If yesterday's list of the best male performances felt a bit underwhelming, it's because this wasn't so much a year for men. This was a fantastic year for women, so much so that it it's become difficult to place final decisions on those two Oscar races. I've had several favorites throughout the past few months, and I think I've finally got my choices nailed down for both categories. Many are saying that this was a year of newly discovered actresses, which I believe to be a bit of an overstatement. Maybe it's because I had already discovered Chloe Moretz in last year's (500) Days of Summer, not to belittle her efforts this year. I'm hesitant to say she's the next Dakota Fanning, because I hate Dakota Fanning. Nevertheless, her disturbing dark and controversial performances in Kick-Ass and Let Me In have certainly made a name for her.

One of the greater acting showcases this year was The Fighter, which obviously contained the jaw-dropping performance from Christian Bale, but there were also the smaller gems from the film. Amy Adams is probably the most underrated of the group, because she gives a very tough, sexy, and somewhat skanky performance as Mickey's girlfriend Charlene. She gives something a logical compass for the film when Mickey's delusional family comes to misdirect him. Probably the most overrated performance is from Melissa Leo, who I admit gave a fantastic performance as the cancer faced mother of Mickey's family, and the person who really controls all the moves of her blessed white-trash children. However, she's not really given too much of a chance to shine, and her character's purpose is a bit too similar to Bale's character, and it edges on lunacy at times. She's an amazing actress, but this just isn't her time.

This is probably the most daring praise I'll give an actress this year, I was extremely impressed with Tina Fey's voice work on the film Megamind. She joins the ranks of other actors who emotionally transcended the animated genre, most notably Ellen Degeneres in 2003's Finding Nemo. Tina Fey's vocal expression brings a lot of the charm and sexiness to the character of Roxanne Ritchi. Rounding out the actresses who didn't quite make the cut for me is Rooney Mara who had merely two or three scenes in this year's greatest success story, The Social Network, but one of them happens to be the best standalone scene in the film. Her work as Erica Albright, the soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend of Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg, is surprisingly passionate and gives a feminist edge to the predominantly male driven film. The top ten actresses of the year after the jump!

Potter-Watch (35 of 77): The Next Generation?

Well, we took a much longer hiatus than I had originally expected. Maybe it's best that I warn you all that it'll be a while before we get the fully loaded outbursts of information again. I might head back to the books, and see if there's anything meaningful to be found in there. The only thing that's for sure is that it'll be a while before we make it to 77. What concerns me most is this: What happens when it's over? Our generation has been defined by films like the Harry Potter saga and the Toy Story trilogy. We've grown up with them, and they are part of our lives. What is going to define the next generation? The Chronicles of Narnia? Twilight? Alvin and the Chipmunks? Is that the grim future we'll be dealing with?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Beauty of Pixar

A Case of Mistaken Identity: Best Male Performances of 2010

To tell you the truth, of all the best of the year segments that I've written, the next two were probably the most difficult. It's much harder to sit down and compare specific performances than it is to compare films, or even aspects of films. Each actor has their own style, and I completely appreciate that. There were some actors who did fantastic jobs this year, but they weren't the best. Geoffrey Rush gave a fantastic and hilarious performance as Lionel Logue in The King's Speech, and his chemistry with Colin Firth gave such a great dynamic for the duo to work off of. Also just barely edged off the list is Jeremy Renner, who chose to follow up his performance in The Hurt Locker with an unnerving turn as the loose cannon of the group in The Town, Jem.

There's also the fact that some films aren't really acting showcases, so you have to do a bit of digging in order to find the best of the group. Inception was one of those films, and even though I really liked the work Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt did, Tom Hardy was the guy who won over me. His character of Eames is practically the man most important to making the act of Inception work, and that sarcastic charm of his doesn't hurt either. Even though it was a team effort, giving Watanabe, Gordon-Levitt, and Murphy all a chance to shine, it's worth noting that Tom Hardy is the man Christopher Nolan's carrying on into The Dark Knight Rises, where I hope he will do even better work.

Oscar 2010: Randy Newman Opts Out of Original Score

Just when we thought we had the Original Score race figured, a old wrench is thrown out. Randy Newman has decided not to enter his score for Toy Story 3 into the race for Best Original Score, making this the first time in four years that a Pixar film has not been nominated in the category. I find it a bit disappointing, because Newman's work is arguably the most emotional this year. There are quite a few worthy scores that are being kicked out of the running, either willingly or forcibly. It does give a bit of comfort that Newman chose this road himself, but I'm still disappointed.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Awards 2010: Phoenix Film Critics Society

It certainly looks like the critics from Phoenix had no problem whatsoever in spreading the wealth around. Just when it seemed Oscar buzz was dead with The King's Speech, it pulls off a win in a few categories here. Likewise, Inception also got a few recognitions, further aiding it in its fight against the odds. I'm still not fine with all the love for Melissa Leo's performance in The Fighter, which was more than fine, but I find it to have been highly overrated. Also not getting the love for Alice in Wonderland and Never Let Me Go, but I'm sure it'll pass. See the winners after the jump!

Awards 2010: WGA Rejects List

Once again, the Writer's Guild of America has composed their list of films that qualify for their screenplay categories. More often than not, the list is better defined by what it doesn't have than what it does. So what poor souls didn't make the cut this year? Well, the most notable omissions are Toy Story 3, Winter's Bone, The King's Speech, Blue Valentine, and Another Year. In other words, most of the films that'll dominate the Academy Award nominations for the two categories. Based on this, I'd say it's a pretty good guess to say that Inception and The Social Network will win Original and Adapted Screenplay respectively. The WGA has a very strict set of guidelines that a film has to be produced under in order to qualify. Other films that didn't make the cut are How to Train Your Dragon, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Never Let Me Go, Biutiful, The Way Back, Tangled, and Made in Dagenham. Although, if it is any consolation, Killers didn't make the cut either. For a look at the full list of eligible films, follow this link.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Theatrical Trailer: The Other Woman

Answering your question before you ask it, this is not some thriller about a seductive temptress who ruins a man's marriage. This is an emotional drama about that woman, and how she isn't some evil tramp that's destroying a family. There are a few things that this film reminds me of, the first being Rabbit Hole, which I have yet to see. I doubt that it will reach up to the same sort of emotional feeling as that one, but Natalie Portman is just coming off of an Oscar caliber performance. That pretty much gives her free reign to go ahead and do what she wants, even if that's a typical comedy with Ashton Kutcher. To be honest, The Other Woman looks like it'll fare better than No Strings Attached. Take a look after the jump!

Awards 2010: Black Film Critics Circle

As much as I still think David Fincher deserves to win Best Director, it looks like most of the heat is going towards the Best Picture race for The Social Network. However, I wouldn't be opposed to Darren Aronofsky getting the award for Black Swan when the time comes. It seems that the two races have become rather routine over the past few years. If a film wins one, it will likely win the other. They almost go hand in hand. I'm more than ready to shake things up. Speaking of shaking things up, Melissa Leo is becoming a little overrated to tell you the truth. Her performance in The Fighter just seemed to come second to Christian Bale's, and he's the one getting the most attention. See the winners after the jump!

Best Contribution to 2010: Alexandre Desplat

I had some trouble thinking of the man/woman who I believe gave the biggest contribution to the film industry this year, because Leonardo DiCaprio is the automatic first choice for most. He had two films on his resume for this year, one of which is up for best picture this year. On the other hand, Shutter Island was originally intended for release last year. It's a great film, but the only reason it's part of this year at all is because Paramount Pictures didn't want to spend money on an Oscar campaign. Also worth mentioning is Jeff Bridges, who legitimately had two films this year, TRON: Legacy and True Grit, both of which were awesomely entertaining on their own levels. However, the person who I personally believe did the most for this year was composer Alexandre Desplat. I've dedicated several posts simply to praise him, because his work this year has been substantial. His least successful work of the year was his score for Tamara Drewe, which seemed to come and go rather quickly in a narrow part of the year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Films To See In 2011: January

The year is coming to a close, which means that we're now headed into the cold season. It's always a bit depressing to go from the rich and enjoyable films of Oscar season to the barren and irritating first few months of the year. There's a fair bit of doubt amidst us concerning exactly how 2011 will do in comparison to 2010. I haven't a doubt that the film industry will do well financially, with an extremely fertile slate of Summer films on the way. It's impossible to tell what will be the critically successful films of the year, especially this far before the festival circuit. That will take a fair bit of patience.

As for the start of the year, it's obviously going to be a long haul. It always is. January is the hardest in terms of new releases, which is why I rely mostly on the wide expansions of the late 2010 flicks that I didn't see before the year was over like Another Year and Blue Valentine. There is the obvious crap that lies in the marketplace, and for once I am going to indulge in that crap. I'll be skipping the obvious failures like Season of the Witch and From Prada to Nada. However, at the time being, it looks like I'll be settling in to see No Strings Attached when it is released. Keep hitting up the poll in the sidebar before it's too late. There are only two new releases that I can actively recommend for you to see. Take a look after the jump!

Awards 2010: Austin Film Critics Association

We're about to reach the dead center of the awards season, and this is the time where things really start to take their final shape, so I'm looking forward to having more awards that try to break the usual formula. The Austin critics are off to a pretty good start, opting out of giving the top prize to The Social Network in favor of Black Swan. I think it's a great choice, and it definitely reminds us that there's more than just one film in the race. Also, Hailee Steinfeld was awarded in the Best Supporting Actress category, which has been flailing between Melissa Leo, Mila Kunis, and several different performers over the past few months. I think Steinfeld could end up being the winner in that category for her fantastic performance in True Grit. I'd be willing to put good money on that bet.

Best Picture: Black Swan
Best Director: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)
Best Actor: Colin Firth (The King's Speech)
Best Actress: Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale (The Fighter)
Best Supporting Actress: Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
Best Original Screenplay: Black Swan
Best Foreign Language Film: A Prophet
Best Cinematography: Black Swan
Best Original Score: Daft Punk (TRON: Legacy)
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Best Documentary: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Awards 2010: Oklahoma Film Critics Circle

Once again...

Best Film: The Social Network

Best Director: David Fincher (The Social Network)

Best Actor: Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)

Best Actress: Natalie Portman (Black Swan)

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale (The Fighter)

Best Supporting Actress: Mila Kunis (Black Swan)

Best Original Screenplay: Inception

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
Best Documentary: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 3

Beyond The Supernatural: Best Cinematography of 2010

I always find myself worried that people no longer believe that more is more. These days, and this is applicable to all aspects of filmmaking, people seem to be sticking with the familiar, rather than trying something new or challenging. Every time I went to the movies this year, I asked myself if the cinematographer merely went with whatever worked, or searched until finding whatever shot worked best. More often than not, I was largely disappointed. However, I am pleased with how many films decided to push things. Shutter Island, Let Me in, and Black Swan had a lot of help from the striking and disturbing imagery they were told to frame, but they were breathtaking nonetheless. The cinematography that impressed me the most this year was a lot more natural, and didn't rely too much on visual symbols or supernatural elements to make its point.

3. Inception

Wally Pfister has worked with Christopher Nolan on all his films, and over the years they have definitely grown through this partnership in terms of honing their respective skills. Nolan and Pfister have peaked in quality, starting two years ago with The Dark Knight, and continuing now with Inception. It's unclear how long this peak will last, or if they could do even better. For the time being, I'm just enjoying what they're placing onscreen. For a film that's largely based in the world of dreams, Pfister keeps the cinematography firmly grounded in some sort of reality. The lensing of most scenes have an over-lit yellow or slight gray tint to them, and the dream world is lit much lighter than the real world, giving an eerie sense of seduction to extended dream sequence. It's ultimately effective, and occasionally iconic, from the perfect first shot of the relentless ocean, to the foreboding and mysterious final shot of the film.

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

If this series hasn't always been a critical or emotional darling, the aspect that has always prevailed in the Potter saga is the production department. I wouldn't be surprised if the latest installment got several nods in technical categories this year, most especially for the lensing of the film. David Yates has had a habit of choosing more skilled and textured cinematographers than the first four films, and Eduardo Serra definitely brings something unique to the table. A lot of what makes the cinematography of this latest film work is the landscapes that the trio (or duo) are staying at. It's a nice way of keeping track of where the characters are emotionally. From the unfamiliar woods, to the barren and desolate mountains, every location has some sort of link to what the characters are feeling at that moment, and Eduardo keeps the camera perfectly focused throughout. There's a balance between the safe distances and the odd shakes in the camera, and it's clear that so much work went into making each frame emotionally impactful.

1. True Grit

I was truly worried that my top pick in this category wouldn't make it into the cinematography category at all, and then True Grit came around the corner and changed everything. I thought that Roger Deakins' Oscar hype for his work here was a bit overblown until I saw it. I was captivated by the meticulous first shot, starting with a strange yellowish fade in, and then focusing into this wonderful portrait of a man lying dead as the snow fell upon him. This attention to detail and quality composition never once wavered for the rest of the film. There wasn't a moment in this film in which I felt that they could've chosen a better shot. The black outline of Tom Cheney riding away and escaping remains a powerful one, and even more powerful is the final shot that leads into the end credits. It's not truly symbolic of anything, but it's simply beautiful to look at. Roger Deakins deserves to win the Oscar for cinematography this year, because he has no equal in this race. This year, he is the best.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Box-Office Update: You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!

I don't get how people can continuously make extremely stupid decisions, but once in a while do something that makes logical sense. That's what I've been thinking across this weekend's box office results, because audiences obviously go with the typical decision of going to see Little Fockers. Anyone could've guessed that, because people are stupid with their choices. One the other hand, True Grit was the surprise hit of this weekend, not taking the top spot, but certainly outperforming any expectations it had. Gulliver's Travels was practically canceled out by Little Fockers, so it hitting the seventh slot isn't all the confusing or surprising.

Adding on to the typical confusion is Yogi Bear, which is doing far better than it should be doing. The animated whatever took a drop of 46.4% this weekend, while TRON: Legacy took a heftier drop of 54.3%. I knew that it wouldn't do well with repeat viewings, but I never thought once in hell that Yogi Bear would keep more audiences. We'll have to wait to see how it fully pans out, but it's understandable how this wasn't as truly magnificent a weekend at the movies as last year. Christmas Eve landed on a Friday, which is usually the top day for people to head out to the theaters, but most were instead stuck at church. At the same time, last year had Avatar and Sherlock Holmes, so the fact that this weekend was 50% down from that one makes complete sense.

1. Little Fockers (First Weekend; $34 million)
2. True Grit (First Weekend; $25.6 million)
3. TRON: Legacy (Second Weekend; $20.1 million)
4. The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Third Weekend; $10.8 million)
5. Yogi Bear (Second Weekend; $8.8 million)
6. The Fighter (Third Weekend; $8.5 million)
7. Gulliver's Travels (First Weekend; $7.2 million)
8. Black Swan (Fourth Weekend; $6.6 million)
9. Tangled (Fifth Weekend; $6.5 million)
10. The Tourist (Third Weekend; $5.7 million)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas From James Franco

Positively Schlocking: Worst Films of 2010

It was a pretty depraved year at the movies in 2010, and so it was relatively easier to fill out this list than the list of the best films of the year. We had so many colossal disappointments this year, I didn't even get the chance to see them all. Sure, I did have the anything-but-unique opportunity to see Alice in Wonderland and Nightmare on Elm Street, but I missed out on Jonah Hex, Marmaduke, and most recently, Yogi Bear. I'm not about to say that I've suffered most, but I have suffered. So, to get it all out of the way, here is my list of the worst films of 2010!

The Other Guys

For most of the films on this list, there was never any reason to believe that they would be the slightest bit good, mostly due to their reputation or director. The Other Guys didn't really have any of that bad blood going against it. I've liked everything Adam McKay has put out so far, so I'm dismayed that this film ended up being so bad. On the way back home from seeing this one, the dread filled in of how disappointing this project was. One of the most important things to holding a film together is a coherent narrative, and I wasn't able to understand any of what happened in this film. If you asked me to give you a quick recap of the plot, I honestly would fail miserably. Mark Wahlberg gives one of the most irritatingly self-explanatory performances of his career, the screenplay is so poorly made with the run-on gags that take up most of the time and just aren't funny. I wish Will Ferrell's performance could redeem it, but this was quite simply a train wreck.

4. The Wolfman

You can be forgiven for not remembering this film, as it feels like so long ago since it was released. Or maybe you forgot because it's just so forgettable. This horror remake had mixed responses when it came out, with some despising it with a passion for the same reasons I did, and some liking, or even more amazingly loving it for the simple reason that it's a gothic horror film. I for one hated it, because it was so damn corny and trashy. With a score by Danny Elfman and a powerful cast behind it, I still don't quite know how it failed so badly. They had Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving, but none of them managed to impress. The makeup job they did on the Wolfman made him look like Chewbacca. It's hard to believe in a tragedy when the lead character is so dull and wooden. This is the main reason why I'm so worried about the Captain America film, because Joe Johnston is directing it just like he directed this. I actually believe Thor is going to end up being the solid view of the two.

3. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Unless Bill Condon turns out to be some sort of God who is able to turn something rapidly unappealing into something enjoyable, there will always be a Twilight film on this list until the series ends. I do try my best to avoid films that have a likelihood of sucking, but I manage to make an exception for this series. So what's to hate about this chapter of the series? The characters, to start with, are two-dimensional figures who could only find a happy home as cardboard cutouts. If I found one for an affordable price, I would snatch up a Taylor Lautner cutout in a heartbeat. The story is a simple rehash of New Moon, which is a simple rehash of Twilight, so if you've seen either of those films, you've seen this film already, only better. The thing that frustrates me the most about this film is that it doesn't care about what we care about. Towards the end of the film, there is a 10 year old girl who was just turned into a vampire. And "our heroes" stand aside as her short life is brutally ended for no reason. Nobody cares about the leads if they're so quick to sacrifice the lives of the weaker. This is a series about sad things happening to pretty people, and I just couldn't care less about it. And how does the film end? Well I honestly can't tell you, because I left the theater enraged before the final scene.

2. Saw 3D

The Saw films have had a standard going on for a while, and it's a standard that I've been more than alright with. Don't expect any narrative quality. Don't expect any quality acting. Don't expect any supreme technical advantages. All you're ever going to get is blood and gore delivered in style (kind of). The latest, and apparently last, Saw film didn't deliver any of that, and so it made all the faults of the film shine through so much more. The cinematography is quite literally the worst cinematography of any film made this year. I can't really comment on the music, because it was utterly forgettable. The acting was stale as a cracker, the direction was a non-factor, and the screenplay was dumb as all hell. Even the traps managed to disappoint. One of the traps was just a bunch of foot tall spikes with a good two feet in between each other, and a man tangling just a few feet above them. Instead of just landing, he flails around like an idiot, which is pretty much what this film does.

1. The Last Airbender

You can sit through endless pointless schlock and never reach the level of disappointment or dread that this film instilled in me. Never before has a film with so much potential failed in such a disastrous fashion. M. Night Shyamalan already had one foot in the grave before he made this film, but if studios allow this man to continue making films, they're only hurting themselves. Personally, I was so excited to see a feature film made out of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the anime television show that I devoted a good amount of my childhood to. I was never able to quite understand why people were so aggressive against the new Star Wars trilogy and the fourth Indiana Jones, though I can't deny that The Phantom Menace was painful to sit through. However, now I truly know what those men in their forties meant when they said that George Lucas raped their childhoods, because Shyamalan just raped mine.

This film failed in almost every aspect possible. The cinematography, which was simple and uninviting to begin with, had been glossed over with poor color conversion, to the point where it looked like they just put blue cellophane on the camera. The visual effects felt unrealistic and like a ripoff of D-War, which is just a new low. The action actually managed to make my adrenaline plummet, because it was just plain boring and stupid. The acting is perhaps the worst in any film I've ever seen, even from the Slumdog Millionaire kid. The direction was aimless and almost bent on making this the most difficult film to ever sit through. The script took any important and emotional moments of the first season of the show, and either threw them out or gave them two minutes of screen time with the most cliche dialogue you'll ever hear. They somehow even managed to mispronounce every single name in the series, especially the name of the main character. I must beg you never to subject yourself to this, because it will literally make your brain cells die within seconds. This is the worst of the worst, and gives the audience nothing in return for their time and money.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"You're Gonna Be Fine"

You thought I was done with my Fringe fanaticism for this year, didn't you? You were wrong. I can't help but think that everything is actually going to be alright for the show.

Film Review: Black Swan

Without a doubt, I have anticipated no other film these past three months more than Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan. I approached this film as a complete stranger would, having a very vague idea of what I was in for. Aronofsky has done spectacular portraits of tragically fractured characters, such as his work with Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. It seemed like a stretch to suddenly head into the world of ballet, and even more of a stretch to frame it as a psychological thriller. Then the next 100 minutes of my life had spun my head three ways round, constricting my lungs in the process, before finally letting me breathe.

Black Swan is about Nina Sayers, a dedicated dancer in a famous ballet company. Her life is practically dominated by her overbearing mother, who clearly hasn't given her any room to have a life of her own. When she is given the challenging role of the Swan Queen in the company's latest performance of Swan Lake, her mind starts playing terrifying tricks on her in order to cope with the stressful situation. The harsh and seductive ballet instructor Thomas, her previously mentioned chaotic mother, and a free-spirited new dancer in the company who threatens Nina's status in the company make her situation all the more frustrating.

Aronofsky has done some fantastic directorial work in the past, but never as detailed as he has achieved here. In terms of production, there's absolutely no flaw to be had here. Each shot, set, and sound is brimming with intense detail. The result is a film that takes what would be ordinary actions in our daily lives, and makes them feel crude and overly sensual to the fragile and sensitive Nina. The real world that we deal with every day feels so assaulting to her because of how she has been brought up. Her mental deterioration is more to blame on her mother than herself.

I could go on about the several disturbing qualities that Aronofsky and his team has worked to infuse into this film, but the main attraction is Natalie Portman's performance. I've been more than a little hesitant to put her as the frontrunner in the Best Actress race, but only because I loved Annette Bening so much in The Kids Are All Right. That being, Portman has much more screen time to work her magic on the audience. There's not a single scene in this film without Natalie in it, and she embodies all the different kinds of human emotion. Nina's feelings are very close to the surface, and everything that she's feeling is right there on her face.

Portman embodies the spirit of Nina Sayers, immaculate and beautiful outwardly, but with a dark edge being repressed below the surface. As usual, the worst consequences come out of the best intentions. Portman fully deserves to win the Oscar for her work here, because nobody must've trained as extensively as she did. She's obviously not the only performance at work here, with Vincent Cassel being one of the understated charms of this film. His representation of Thomas is not as a prick, but as a skilled director who uses sexual stimuli to get to the core of each character. Mila Kunis continues to leave behind her days on That 70s Show, with this being her most challenging role to date. It's still a rather light and fun role, because that's the perfect contrast to what Nina is.

If my thoughts on the film aren't quite as settled as they should be, it's because a lot of what could be said about the film has already been said. It will literally take your breathe away and withhold it from you for what feels like ages. As Nina takes the plunge into insanity, you will be gasping for control. The highest praise I can give Black Swan is that it registers a response from the audience that no other film has achieved this year.


Film Review: True Grit

I haven't ever been too familiar with the western genre. I tried to get into The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but it ultimately didn't rub off on me. It didn't have as well a pace as it should've, and as it started its final half-hour I just didn't care enough. I haven't seen any of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood's old classics. The only western I ever really enjoyed was the 3:10 to Yuma remake which was released a few years back. It didn't have nearly as much visual flair as the others, but it kept a consistent pace and had two fantastic performances from Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. Joel & Ethan Coen's No Country For Old Men is often considered a western, but in comparison to their adaptation of True Grit, it's far too modern.

Which brings us to the latest film from the brothers Coen, and I can tell you that it is a true classic American western. True Grit follows Mattie Ross, a young girl whose father is killed by a coward named Tom Cheney. After refusing to head home with her father's corpse, she instead hires a local U.S. Marshall by the name of Rooster Cogburn to go after Cheney in hopes of retribution. Joining their alliance is a rather full of himself Texas Ranger named La Beouf, and they begrudgingly head after the gang that Cheney is a part of. It's a rather typical story for a western, but I don't remember it being told as convincingly as it is here.

When the trailers were released for this film, I had my doubts and worries about whether it be mainstream for them to inject their specific feeling into it. I love most of the Coen's films because they don't decide to go by regular cinematic rules. However, there is a faint signature that Joel and Ethan leave on this film. The scenes run on as long as they please, but it's never too apparent to the audience. By the end, it is clear who made the film, because the themes they work with are very much present. The theme they play around with the most in their films is that life pretty much sucks, but this film is probably the most optimistic they've ever made. I guess they were in a mood to make a happy film. That is to say that it is happy compared to most of what they've made in the past.

Ultimately, I was surprised by how much I loved this film. Most Coen films grate against me during the first viewing, only for me to later revisit them and find their value. True Grit was a fantastic film upon the first viewing. Roger Deakins turns in his most visually striking work to date, and I'm glad as hell that I postponed my cinematography list until later on. The first shot of the film is beautiful, and probably time consuming to create. From then on, the film was challenged to make up a story and performances that are as captivating as the imagery. As Barney Stinson would say, "Challenge completed!"

Jeff Bridges does a fantastic job in the role of Rooster Cogburn. He's fat and old, and he drinks far more than he should. He's the last man a reasonable human being would choose to go on a man-hunt. He really ignites the dynamic between the main group, but to say that he's the main attraction would be heresy. Hailee Steinfeld is the heart and soul of this film, and she should be more involved in the lead actress race than the supporting one. It's her story that's being told, and she has far more grit than any other character onscreen. She's not going to step aside based on the sole fact that she's a girl, and she's not going to let any man take advantage of her neither.

Matt Damon hasn't really had a good year, with both Green Zone and Hereafter missing their marks. I hope this is the film that people remember most when looking over his work this year. His performance as La Beouf ranges from stubborn, to metro-sexual, to a respectful human being. Finally, and least of all because he has so little screen time is Josh Brolin as Tom Cheney. He's hardly the main man of the gang he belongs to, and he certainly is a lowly coward. He's terrifying at some points, and it occasionally feels like we're an edge away from losing a beloved character. That's how effective Brolin is with the short time he's afforded.

True Grit wasn't a western that really depended on the action sequences, because it gained most of its effect from the quieter sequences, as is the way with most great films. A lot of time is spent with the characters wandering almost aimlessly through the wilderness, but it's done in more of a fast pace, in contrast to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, which often used deathly silence to create the mood of the adventure. However, when the action starts, Carter Burwell's relatively light and courageous score lets you know. It's not your typical western, and the Joel & Ethan Coen give the film a flavor entirely its own. I'd like to think that this is a game changer, but even I know not to hope that high. I'm still glad that I decided to see True Grit before this year was over.


Lightning In A Bottle: Best Trailers of 2010

5. Super 8

I know it's a trailer for a film coming out in 2011, but I'm counting any trailer released this year under this list. The most entertaining part of Iron Man 2, sad as it is to say, was the trailers before the film. I payed to see the film a second time, just so I could see those trailers again. J.J. Abrams' secret new trailer for Super 8 arrived very much in the same way that the trailer for Cloverfield did. The only difference was that news of this trailer leaked onto the internet shortly before it debuted, so it was only half a surprise. Still, Abrams does know how to put together an intriguing teaser, packed with special effects, silent intrigue, and the question of what exactly it is all supposed to mean. We'll have to wait until next year to see if it'll actually be worth it, but we've got our fingers crossed.

4. The Social Network

The reveal of the final trailer for David Fincher's much anticipated The Social Network was divided, as the previous two weeks gave us two interesting and unique teasers. Then we got the final work of art, and it gave us an idea of what exactly we were in for. "The Facebook Movie" was no longer a simple joke. It was a film that could be taken seriously by audiences and critics. Right from the opening, the trailer pushed style and art before thrusting us forward into dark yellow cinematography of Harvard. The screenplay was praise-worthy, even in such a fragmented format. The cover of Creep that played in the background gave an eerie undertone to it all, fit the theme of the film, and it soon became the song that best described this year in film.

3. Blue Valentine

I have a special preference for these trailers that don't go with the regular format, and instead decide to go with something a little simpler, but more striking. In many ways, this trailer works brilliantly for this specific film, because even though it doesn't quite go over the bar with grit, it's still quite raw. It's certainly enough to get me in the theater, because Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are two spectacular understated actors. They're so honest in the interpretation of all this. It only hints at the insanity that ensues when their relationship starts to crumble, but it's only a teaser trailer. It's meant to get you interested, and this one gets us into the seats.

2. Black Swan

There were two trailers this year that had absolutely everybody talking, because they challenged the audience to buy into their insanity, and succeeded. This was really close to nabbing the top spot, but Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan still has plenty going for it. The first footage that made its way to the public was gob-smacking, and gave the consistent feeling of WTF(?) throughout that final minute. We knew it was going to be absolutely terrifying, but there were points in which it just got disturbing. From that creepy crow-face to red-eyed Nina pulling a black feather out of her skin. At a point I was wondering whether it was a ballet-thriller or some dark work of fantasy. Back then, I didn't think this film would be nominated for Best Picture, but I knew it was going to be amazing.

1. Inception

It may seem like a bit of an overstatement, but there is no way this could be considered anything less than the best trailer of the year. A lot of what went into it was the mystery and anticipation surrounding Christopher Nolan's latest mindbender, and all of that is still there. Wally Pfister's cinematography is always brimming with artistry and detail, and combining that with the unique visuals that the dream world provides us is like catching lightning in a bottle. I watched this trailer at least twenty times in a row when it reached the internet. Perhaps the most important quality of it all was Zack Hemsey's Mind Heist, which played in the background of the trailer. It brought all the excitement and anticipation out to the audience on an emotional level. This trailer was a success on every level of sound, sight, and editing. From that moment on, the main event of the summer was Inception.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Weekend Report: A Very Psychotic Holiday

We've finally reached the Christmas weekend, which worked out rather well for most films last year. Then again, they had the special boost of singing chipmunks, Robert Downey Jr., and the highest grossing film ever made. So it's needless to say that this weekend won't be as successful, but there are some advantages. We've got the wide expansion of Black Swan, which should be the main ticket for the intellectually driven audiences this weekend. On top of that, The King's Speech is moving in 600 theaters this weekend, which means that I'll finally get to see it that second time that I wanted to see months ago.

The Coen Brothers have probably got the best new release this weekend, with their western remake of True Grit starring the already relevant Jeff Bridges. I still haven't got around to seeing that one, and I may end up hauling out to see it tonight if I get the chance. It's not a likely possibility, but it kills me that I've been waiting this long. Most people are, unfortunately, going to see Little Fockers this weekend, because people don't care about being entertained anymore it seems. Same goes for Gulliver's Travels. You have plenty of real opportunities to have a good time at the movies this weekend. Don't waste it.

Auditory Expansion: Best Musical Scores of 2010

Sorry for the confusion, but I still have to see True Grit and Black Swan before posting the cinematography list, so this will do until then. 2010 wasn't quite as successful as it should have been in terms of films, but it undeniably was a fantastic year for music. This was confirmed from the beginning with Howard Shore's dark score for Edge of Darkness. The film failed on several counts, but the music wasn't one of them. John Powell, whose scores have been consistently exciting and entertaining, churned out him best work to date attached to How to Train Your Dragon. Danny Elfman had a bad year, first with the complete failure of The Wolfman, but I liked his score for the ill-formed Alice in Wonderland.

James Newton Howard had even worse luck, working on rather pedestrian scores for Salt, Love and Other Drugs, and The Tourist. The best work he made this year was, regrettably, his score for The Last Airbender, which sucks because the score was so fantastic, but the film so abysmal. If the film turned out to be good, James Newton Howard would be nominated for an Oscar this year. A few secretive gems include Nigel Godrich's score for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and Daft Punk's electrifying work on TRON: Legacy. True Grit and Black Swan got sadly sidelined from the Oscar race for Original Score the other day, but they're more than worthy of note. Biggest failure in this category this year was John Debney whose massive failures with Iron Man 2 and Predators just brought those films down. The most successful composer was surely Alexandre Desplat, but more about him later on.

3. Let Me In by Michael Giacchino

There are very few horror films that have an effective emotional core attached to them, which is probably the main reason that Michael Giacchino was brought in to work on this score. There's also his previous experience of working with director Matt Reeves, but when news broke out that he was doing the score, it was a lot easier to put my faith in this film. I'll agree that it took some time for the score to synchronize with film, but I blame that a bit on the editing. The score itself is hauntingly beautiful, with tracks like Sins of the Father and Polling for Owen building intrigue and suspense. It's sometimes joyful and happy with tracks like A New Day On an Old Lake. Then we plunge right back into the spine-tingling horror roots, and the best example of that is the best track of the score, Dread on Arrival. End Credits beautifully caps off everything with a tragic melody that hints at the truth of the rest of Owen's life. The score is a powerful extension of the film, and that's what the definition of any effective score should be.

2. Toy Story 3 by Randy Newman

I haven't the slightest clue why Randy Newman's work on the latest and last installment in the Toy Story saga is being so minimalized by people when it comes to the Original Score category. The man has always put together wonderful and heartfelt tunes, and I know the songs are what he's best known for. However, he really pushed the envelope this time around, and brought as much closure and excitement as a soundtrack can give you. The opening number of Cowboy brings you into the fold with an extraordinary sense of wonder. Then it brings you a little further down to earth before grounding you. It builds up as the film goes on, gets really exciting when To The Dump hits, and then climaxes with the breathtaking and tear-jerking The Claw. It ends on a beautifully soft note with So Long, and it eases you into the inevitably end of this franchise. It's sweet, emotional, and weaves in some core themes from past installments. A worthy closing.

1. Inception by Hans Zimmer

Definitely the most expansive and revolutionary soundtrack of the year came in the form of Hans Zimmer's score for Inception. Rather than go the easy route and create something that merely fit the film, Zimmer decided to do something new, which caused a bit of worry when the word "electronic" was used to describe his work. Fret not, because using the advanced medium does not detract from Zimmer's natural talent to register excitement and emotion. The first track that leaked out was a portion of The Dream Is Collapsing, which soon became the main theme for the film. It's not an easy theme to start humming, and it exists on so many different levels and layers, just like the dream world of the film. That sort of theme continues, and it's hard to find a legitimate climax of this soundtrack, because it sustains the excitement through. It's a success on every level, from the amazing action tracks like Mombasa, to the deep and emotional chord that Time creates. Every scene in the film is amplified by the work, and the experience becomes something else entirely than what it was before.