Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Last impressions on last week's upcoming movies

So let's see what came out last week

How to Train Your Dragon
Rottentomatoes rating - 97%

I was surprised by how well this movie has done with critics and audiences and I hope to see this sooner or later. But apparently, Dreamworks has made a real masterpiece of animation. Who'd have thought?

Hot Tub Time Machine
Rottentomatoes rating - 63%

Now I can personally vouch for this movie. It's funny, it's ridiculous, it's entertaining... yeah it takes a little while to get going but for such a dumb plot, this is a smart movie with a very satisfying ending. I think it deserves a higher rating than it got, but whatever, right?


Rottentomatoes rating - 71%

I'm happy that Greenberg managed to survive the critics over the past few weeks. I haven't seen the movie cause it's not playing near where I live (yet), but I'm still very much looking forward to this.

The Expendables trailer

The Expendables trailer came out recently and while some have a few reservations about it, I think this should be a pretty kickass action movie. Stallon, Statham, Li, Rourke, Dolph Lundgren and some cameos from Schwarznegger and Bruce Willis? Hell yeah! I know that doesn't automatically mean it'll be good, but I will be very shocked if this movie succeeds in exactly what it's trying to do. By the looks of it, that is, be a kickass throwback action movie. I'm down with that.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World trailer

So the new trailer for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is pretty sweet. It's actually a teaser so I don't blame you for being confused if you haven't read the comics, and yes, it stars Michael Cera. But this movie is from the same guy who made Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead! And from the looks of the teaser, it's just crazy enough to be good.


I Love You Phillip Morris: a movie that, apparently, Hollywood is afraid to release.

Trailer: warning, definitely NSFW

Plot: The story begins with Russell, played by Jim Carrey, on his deathbed recalling the events of his life that led him there. He begins with his life in Texas as a happily married police officer who plays the organ at church, prays every night with his wife (Leslie Mann) and spends his off hours searching for his biological mother who gave him up as a child. That, and he's gay. But after finding and being handily rejected by the mother who gave him up as a baby, Steven leaves his life and family behind to go out into the world and be his true, flamboyantly gay self. He moves to Miami, finds a boyfriend (Rodrigo Santoro) and begins living the high life. He realizes quickly though, that a life of luxury is expensive, leading this resourceful former cop to turn to a life as a conman. But when his con work finally catches up with him, Steven is sent to prison where he meets, and almost instantly falls in love with Phillip Morris, played by Ewan McGregor. From there the story becomes a Don Quixote-esque story of a forlorn lover who cannot bear to be separated from his soul-mate. He will go to any lengths to be with Phillip, including but not limited to breaking out of jail on multiple occasions, impersonating Phillip's lawyer and fraudulently becoming the CFO of a major corporation.


Ok, now that you get a general idea of what this movie is about, I guess you can see why it's been going through delay after delay since the beginning of the year. At first, the movie was supposed to come out at the end of last year, then got pushed to February, then to March, and now to April 30th? Damn. It's Jim Carrey! And Ewan McGregor! What's stopping this from getting a wide release? Because the main two characters are gay!

How does Bruno get such a wide release and not this? At least this movie actually has a story and the humor is definitely not as crazy and offensive as the humor in Bruno (ok it might be slightly as crazy). Sure, as you can see, there may be some sex scenes involving two men. I never really understood why guys cared so much. I'm engaged. I don't care if a movie has gay sex in it. What do I have to worry about? Darren Aronofsky has a movie coming out called Black Swan which apparently has a very risque lesbian sex scene involving Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Of course everyone wants to see that. I do too! But, doesn't it only seem fair to balance that with Jim Carrey's new movie? What's the big deal? It's like when people freaked out about the idea of seeing Brokeback Mountain. C'mon, a movie is a movie. At least, that's my take on things.

I remember the reaction to when Bruno came out last year. Now I agree that the movie wasn't as funny as Borat (even though Borat was really a collection of his best moments on his tv show). It was still pretty damn hilarious. It just had... a lot of homoerotic or blatantly gay scenes in it. I thought it was awesome how shameless and daring the movie was.

Anyway, what I'm saying here is that this movie, I Love You Phillip Morris, looks like a genuinely good movie with a seemingly great performance by Jim Carrey. Jim Carrey definitely has quite a pair of balls to take on a role like this one and what makes me want to see it is how much he puts into this role. It looks like he really goes all out for this movie. I remember reading about how Will Smith refused to do a scene in the movie "Six Degrees of Separation" because it involved kissing another man. So, to see another big star go even further than that is just awesome to me. But forget about that, this looks like a great movie... gay sex or not. People really ought to get over themselves. Don't you think?

It's funny that people are afraid to see a movie like this, but don't mind seeing half-naked men with chiseled abs for over two hours (yes, I'm talking about the movie 300).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Director Profile: Noah Baumbach

It's not that Noah Baumbach is my favorite director working today or even one of my favorite directors working today. No, he's not. Not really, at least. You see, he caught my attention when I caught his co-screenwriting credit while watching The Life Aquatic, the Wes Anderson movie. See, at the time (circa 2004), I was hugely into Wes Anderson. I remember my excitement when I actually found Bottle Rocket on a movie channel. It was the only movie I hadn't seen from him. So, as The Life Aquatic was about to come out, I had seen all his movies and I was expecting the best. Unfortunately I had to wait until the DVD came out because nobody wanted to see it with me when it came out on the big screen. I wasn't really too high on the movie when I finally saw it and I found the direction that he was taking was peculiar. I mean, The Royal Tenenbaums was by all means a pretty dry movie, but it was a dark movie. The darkest movie Wes Anderson had made... it also was an amazing movie. I dug it all the way through. I felt the humor was right for the tone of the movie. But, The Life Aquatic just felt dry to me... plain and dry. Then I looked and saw that it wasn't co-written by Owen Wilson, but Noah Baumbach. "Who is this guy?" I thought.

Luckily, Baumbach's movie The Squid and the Whale came out on DVD not too long after and of course I had to check it out. This was purely a Noah Baumbach film. What did this guy have to offer? Well, a very deep, profound, wonderfully personal film. The Squid and the Whale was just such a revelation to me. I could relate to it on so many levels. It spoke to me unlike any other film at the time. Yes, the humor was dry, but the characters were so well-written that it worked for me. Then I watched The Life Aquatic a second time and it all made sense to me. This was a very character-driven film. See, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums focused primarily on a number of different characters and all their little eccentricities. It was the close attention to those details that made them so interesting. But, The Life Aquatic was really just about Steve Zissou. He wasn't eccentric, he was more like Royal Tenenbaum. Imagine if The Royal Tenenbaums was just about Royal. It'd be a pretty sad, pretty dry movie, right? That's what Life Aquatic was to me. There was still plenty of little details about the movie that was very Wes Anderson, but Steve Zissou was really just a sad, sad man. It, like The Royal Tenenbaums, was also a dark movie... it just wasn't filled with as many eccentric characters. When I first saw the movie, I guess I just didn't know what to make of him. I wasn't sure if I liked the main character. How can I enjoy the movie if I didn't like the main character?

Well, in The Squid and the Whale, hardly anyone in the movie is likable. These are highly flawed characters, but they're real characters. And the willingness to show the ugly side of people is what attracted me to Noah Baumbach's style. When I saw TLA, I realized that's what they were trying to do with Steve Zissou.

Anyway, like I said, I really dug the movie. In the following few years, I was able to catch up on his earlier films (except for Highball) and I really enjoyed those films too. Those films showed a brighter side to him. He seemed much more focused on writing witty, disillusioned characters, but they still demonstrated his knack for writing believable, realistic characters.

So, there are two sides to Noah Baumbach. The younger, more disillusioned 20-something college grad and the somewhat older, maturer, yet more reflective Noah Baumbach. Margot at the Wedding kinda delved into that second psyche even further. It dealt with a kid going through the awkward pre-teen stage having to go on this trip with his mother as they visit his Aunt and soon-to-be Uncle. Baumbach also further explored the inner struggles of a family that has seemed to grown apart from each other. Again, the characters were ugly, unlikable, mean, spiteful. Because of this, critics were very mixed on the movie. I remember when the movie was about to come out and I saw how divided the critics were. But you know what? That kinda made me wanna see the movie even more. It showed me Baumbach wasn't trying to become a critical darling. The Squid and the Whale pretty much got glowing reviews all across the board and here is Baumbach, further delving into the uglier side of human relationships. That being said, I understood a lot of the criticisms directed toward the movie. It definitely has its fair share of flaws. It almost felt too personal, too spiteful. And I also felt that Jack Black's character was oddly out of place in the movie. It was as if Baumbach was afraid to make it a complete drama. I think it would've been more interesting if it was a flat-out drama and any elements of a comedy were taken out altogether. Because, really, it is supposed to be a drama. And it could've been a really effective drama if Baumbach went all the way with it.

Nevertheless, with that movie, it established Baumbach as one of the most interesting filmmakers working today. I wouldn't say he's my favorite just yet, but his films do fascinate me. It's amazing to me how layered his characters are. I feel like, by the end of a Baumbach movie, that I had really gotten to know the characters. What's most interesting is how his movies end, especially with his last two films, they both forced you to ask "Where do we go from here?" I like it when a movie poses that question and I really want to know the answer to it. It frustrates and excites me at the same time. I don't see the need for a movie to wrap everything up in a nice little bow. Take Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors when Allen's character and Martin Landau are standing next to each other at that party. It's the end of the movie and these characters both have just gotten out of their respective dramatic situations. The question for both of them was the same... "Where do we go from here?", "What happens now?" and it's asked in the same lingering way. Life goes on. The drama is over. There is a sense that these characters will live on even when the movie ends.

Right now Greenberg sits at a 100% on rottentomatoes with only seven reviews in. Obviously, that's going to go down at some point. But I feel genuinely happy for Baumbach. I want him to succeed, I want him to continue growing as a filmmaker. He may not be at the top of his game yet, but I cannot wait when he gets there. And he will.

Monday, March 15, 2010

First Impressions on this upcoming weekend's slate of movies

Because I don't have the resources to watch every movie that comes out every weekend, I've decided, each Monday, to judge the movies that are coming out on the following Friday. Doing this on a Monday is more fun because it's before any of the critics evaluate these movies so I'm going into this pretty stone cold. So, here it goes....

major releases:

The Bounty Hunter

A romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler... since when has a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston ever been good? Ever? Does anyone get remotely excited for the next romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston? Are guys gonna be willing to see this because 300's Gerard Butler stars in it? Unless they have some weird man crush on him, then my guess is no. I have no desire to see this movie, my guess is that it gets less than 35% on

Repo Men

I like Jude Law and I like Forest Whitaker, but apparently the premise is a rip off of Repo! The Genetic Opera. Also, I can't look at that title and not think of the Emilio Estevez movie. Nevertheless, I wouldn't be completely unwilling to see this movie if there's actually any buzz about it. But, the trailer doesn't really make me get that excited. It'd be nice to have a kick ass non-superhero action movie these days... I guess we'll have to wait for The Expendables on that one

Overall, I MAYBE would be willing to rent this on dvd.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

What the hell? The commercials for this movie are absolutely awful. It would be nice to have a good movie primarily about pre-teen kids, but this just looks horrible. Who knows, maybe I'm wrong? I doubt it. Looks like shit.

Limited releases:

Limited releases include The Runaways and Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.

The Runaways came out at Sundance to some pretty decent reviews so it might be worth a look. For those who don't know what the movie is gonna be about... look up "The Runaways" on wikipedia! Anyway, it should be interesting to see Dakota Fanning in a more adult role and Kristen Stewart can be good with the right material.

Girl With a Dragon Tattoo is apparently a very good Swedish movie that's finally getting a release in the US. I'll obviously have to catch this on DVD since I doubt it'll be playing in central PA, but if you have the chance to see this movie, you should probably take it.

Plot summary from

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family. He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, ruthless computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet's disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from almost forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history. But the Vanger's are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.

Overall, if you've already seen Green Zone and Shutter Island, there won't be many other movies (save for, maybe, Greenberg) to get excited about until May. Oh yeah, and Hot Tub Time Machine is coming out soon, you should definitely check that out. Overall, hopefully there will be some surprises over the next few weeks.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Question Du Jour - The End Of Scorsese

David Poland wrote a very interesting article on his blog about how there seems to be a similar thread linking almost all of Scorsese's movies.

Check it out

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The future of Ken on Cinema

Aside from my occasional mumbo jumbo and scant movie news on films that I really care about (I'll start covering all that once there's REALLY stuff worth covering), I thought I'd give you a taste in what you should look forward to in the next few months on this here blog...

rest of March -
review of Repo Men (maybe)
review of Greenberg (hopefully)
Director's profile: Noah Baumbach (definitely)

review of Kick-Ass
review of I Love You, Phillip Morris (hopefully)
Actor profile: Jim Carrey
Summer Movie Preview
Cannes film festival lineup preview
top 50/100 movies of the 80s (haven't decided yet)

review of Iron Man 2, Robin Hood
Director's profile: Ridley Scott
Genre profile: Superhero movies
Whatever is going on during the Cannes film festival
top 50/100 movies of the '70s

top 20 movies of 2009 (the final word)
review of Get Him to the Greek, Toy Story 3
Studio profile: Pixar

top 100 movies of the 2000s (finally)

Review of The Other Guys, Scott Pilgrim, Expendables
Director profile on Edgar Wright
Fall/Winter movie preview
Toronto Film Festival lineup preview

Anyway, those are just some key things to look for... I'd review more movies if I had better resources and more time... but we're working on that! Until then, we'll be looking over some fun movies, some serious awards contenders... all of that leading to the 2010 Awards Season which should be exciting. And yeah, some stories to look out for starting now are any new leads on the next PT Anderson movie, Black Swan, and Tree of Life. And I'll of course be posting trailers to upcoming movies that interest me and will be discussing them and how I feel about them.

I'm also thinking about doing special DVD reviews... that is, movies that recently came out on DVD that I hadn't seen. That especially goes for movies like The White Ribbon, a Prophet, among others.

Should be an exciting year, especially as I continue to work on making this blog more and more fun to read. I hope you enjoy the ride with me.

Rottentomatoes: Shutter Island - 67%? Green Zone - 49%??

Now I know you're not supposed to take much stock in rottentomatoes ratings or imdb ratings, but I'm quite surprised at the total critical consensus of both Shutter Island and Green Zone. Both films are very entertaining genre flicks that accomplish pretty much everything that they set out to do. It seems, however, that since both films aren't perfect, critics appear to be jumping and pointing their fingers over at their imperfections.

Is Shutter Island nowhere near Scorsese's best film? Of course not, but it was a very brilliant film in its own right. So just because it's not his best film, that means it's awful? I don't really understand. I mean, the RT consensus is right there at the top of its page: "It may not rank with Scorsese's best work, but Shutter Island's gleefully unapologetic genre thrills represent the director at his most unrestrained." C'mon critics, a 67% overall? I just feel like it could give people the wrong idea, fortunately, the moviegoing public largely ignored the critics' mixed feelings on the film and Scorsese had his biggest opening weekend gross yet.

Green Zone seems to be getting even harsher treatment. Really, it would make more sense to me if it had the 67% rating. I can understand critics not liking the clear, unapologetic anti-war message in the film, but it's still a very solid action film. It definitely is a more accomplished film than Alice in Wonderland, that's for sure.

It should be interesting how this sets the tone for films to come out for the remainder of the year. I never thought to check, but perhaps critics are just worn out from awards season? Or maybe I'm just wrong about these movies... no, that can't be it! Roger Ebert gave both films great reviews and while he's not necessarily the most reliable critic these days, other places like The Playlist and James Berardinelli seem to agree with his assessments. So, it can't be just me that's crazy. Even though Green Zone may get lost in the shuffle of the upcoming slate of 2010 films, I know Shutter Island will be right up there when I start looking back at this year in film. We'll see if the critical consensus is the same then as it is now. Repeated viewings should help Shutter Island; however, it might take longer before more people start accepting Green Zone as a very good film despite its political agenda.

Green Zone review

Starring: Matt Damon, Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinnear
Dir: Paul Greengrass
Duration: 114 Minutes

Paul Greengrass's action/thriller Green Zone is an unapologetic indictment against the US government; Matt Damon's character Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller grows increasingly cynical of the intelligence his troops have been receiving on the location of WMDs. He begins to become concerned that the very reasons why they're at war with Iraq are under completely false pretenses. Throughout the movie, he's unrelenting in his quest to find out the truth, putting his life in the most dangerous of situations in order to get the truth out there and bring certain people to justice. This is a man who volunteered to join the Army and fight in Iraq because he sincerely believed the country contained weapons of mass destruction and subsequently he had the rug pulled out from underneath him.

Green Zone works because of Matt Damon's convincing performance as Chief Officer Roy Miller. And while there are great actors in the supporting roles (such as Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, and Amy Ryan), this is really Matt Damon's show from beginning to end. This may hinder the movie's opportunity to flesh out its supporting characters, but the writers decided to forgo characterization in order to successfully execute its complex plot. Of course, some aspects of the film's complex plot may not be pulled off perfectly, but it does more than enough to make this a very entertaining film. This is a straightforward indictment of the Iraq War and it might anger people from the right side of the political spectrum, but it would not hold as much emotional weight if it didn't have a strong political statement.

Yes, Paul Greengrass does institute his typical shakycam aesthetic that is used in his previous films (Bourne Supremacy, Bourne Ultimatum), but it actually works in the context of the film. It might be a bit off-putting in the Bourne films, but I feel that it works in Green Zone because Baghdad, Iraq is a city full of chaos and uncertainty. Honestly, while it's very noticeable within the first few minutes of the film, the film's plot is engrossing enough where you don't even notice it after awhile. Anybody who claims that the camerawork here is very nauseating is either over the age of 60 or they're simply overreacting.

For a complex plot, the movie's version of the origins of the Iraq War are pretty simplistic. The problem with making a war film with such a clear political agenda is that when you attempt to create simple explanations to very complex problems, it might come off as a bit disingenuous. But this isn't a film that attempts to know everything, it just presents its own argument of the story. I feel, however, that the movie is just action-packed and thrilling enough for people on both sides of the spectrum to enjoy the movie. I think what makes this film work in particular is that it's in the point of view of a concerned soldier. This is a man who still loves and supports his country; a man who does not want to risk his life and thousands of his fellow soldiers' lives under false pretenses. Green Zone demonstrates that it is possible to condemn the war in Iraq while supporting the troops. Nobody here is putting these troops under fire for their actions in Iraq; it's moreso condemning US intelligence for misleading those troops into going to war.

The strongest aspect for the movie is that it never loses its way. Each scene logically follows the other and Paul Greengrass creates some great tense moments that leads to some compelling action scenes. Like I said before, Matt Damon's performance is the key to this film being as good as it is. It turns what could just be a typical anti-Iraq war film into a convincing anti-Iraq war film with much needed emotional weight. I do not really understand why reactions to this movie are so negative/mixed. The action is solid, the acting is solid, the camerawork is highly effective, the plot is well-executed. Sure, it doesn't tell you anything you don't already know, but I do not think that makes its action scenes any less effective or its main character's concerns any less convincing. Overall, though it has a simplistic plot, Green Zone is a somewhat flawed, yet very entertaining action/thriller.

Rating: 7.5/10

Advanced Hot Tub Time Machine review

Cast: John Cusack, Craig Robinson, and Rob Corddry
Dir: Steve Pink
Opens March 26th

I recently saw an advanced screening of Hot Tub Time Machine and I must say it was a very funny movie. I don't know if this has the runaway hit potential of The Hangover, but it does have the same style of humor added with tons of goofy references to '80s pop culture and movies. Appearances by both Chevy Chase and Crispin Glover in the film also adds a nice touch to the nostalgia trip.

The movie stars John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, and Clark Duke as four guys who go on a trip to a ski resort after their one friend Lou (Corddry) nearly killed himself by keeping his car running in the garage while jamming out to some Motley Crue. His two friends (played by Cusack and Robinson) want to take him on this trip so they can relive some of their glory days in the '80s. Adam, Cusack's character, also brings his internet nerd of a nephew Jacob along (Duke) much to Lou's dismay.

When they get to the town where the ski resort is, they discover that it is pretty much a ghost town. Trying to make the best of things, they decide to party anyway in their hotel room's accompanying hot tub. When a Russian version of a Red Bull spills on the rim of the tub, they find themselves stuck in the '80s. Just like that!

Now you pretty much spend the first act of the movie waiting for them to get transported back in time. Luckily, when we get there, it doesn't disappoint. With the help of Chevy Chase's character who plays the hot tub repairman, they realize that if they do anything differently while they're in the '80s, it might change the course of their future for better or worse. This is where most of the film's funniest scenes take place, thankfully.

I have to say that for a comedy like this, it's fairly high concept. But, the writers' light-hearted approach to the irrationality of the plot is what makes everything work. It's as if the characters know that this whole thing is ridiculous (and why wouldn't they think that way), but after awhile it starts to become too much of a self-parody. This is where Chevy Chase's character gets a bit annoying. Chase's character is supposed to be the crazy "Doc" type character that purposely explains how they get out of this situation in a very vague way. It's only really during these scenes where the movie kind of drags on as it attempts to whack you in the head with its self-parodying. The movie kinda has this feeling that it's in love with its own concept and this has a two-pronged effect. In one way, it gives the plot much needed energy to make for a very funny movie, but in another way, it kinda gets lost trying to explain its way through the logic of everything.

It may take a little while for the film to get going, but when it does, it's a pretty hilarious ride toward the end. I was very pleased with how the movie ended. I won't give any of that away, but let's just say it successfully builds upon the ridiculousness of its plot.

What really makes this movie work are the performances by Corddry, Cusack, and Robinson. You can tell that they really had fun with this movie. Clark Duke, however, sticks out like a sore thumb. It's not that he's bad, but his weaknesses as a comedic actor are very noticeable. Luckily, that doesn't take away from the overall hilarity of the film. You also have to consider that since the movie tries to employ a time travel plot inside a comedy, it pulls it all off pretty well. Of course some of it doesn't work, would you really expect it to? If you're simply coming into this movie expecting a very good time, I think you'll find much to like in Hot Tub Time Machine.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Alice in Wonderland review

Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Mia Wasikowska
Dir: Tim Burton
Duration: 109 Minutes

Alice in Wonderland is a reasonably enjoyable flick with some dazzling images, great mix of CGI and live action, and it features a very convincing performance from Mia Wasikowska who plays Alice in the film.

The movie is not without its problems, however. The story takes place with Alice, now a young adult, who finds herself back in this magical world with some ol' familiar friends who need her to stop the Red Queen who has brought a reign of terror to Wonderland. And by reign of terror, I mean, she's an irritable bitch with a very large head who screams "Off with their heads!" every five seconds. This would be fine if Helena Bonham Carter was at all convincing, unfortunately, she mails in a very irritating performance as the Red Queen.

The Red Queen has stolen the crown from the White Queen, who is played by the usually lovely Anne Hathaway. But the White Queen's character is so flat and unmemorable in this movie that it makes for a pretty anti-climactic moment when she finally wins the crown back.

The film also features the usual cast of talking animals that is what makes the story of Alice in Wonderland so mysterious, enjoyable, and charming. And yeah, there are quite a few charming characters here, especially the Chesire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry).

The Mad Hatter is played by Johnny Deep, who isn't really that mad at all in the movie. In fact, the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland takes more of a heroic turn in the story as he swordfights (!) his way towards freedom. The Mad Hatter, really, is just slightly weird. Sometimes he has a lisp, sometimes he speaks in a Scottish accent, sometimes he doesn't do either. He also does a really horrible dance toward the end of the film which is so putrid and awful that it almost ruins the film completely (to make it worse, Alice repeats the same dance later on in the movie). But Tim Burton has to understand that just because you've dressed up the Mad Hatter in ridiculous clothes and gave him a lot of hideous makeup, it doesn't make the character 'crazy.' The character should act as crazy as he looks, but he doesn't.

In fact, I'd say the majority of characters in the movie are moreso used as talking, moving props than being real characters at all. There is no wonder, no imagination, no mysteriousness in the characters. They are simply a little weird. "Animals do NOT talk," Alice assures herself toward the end of the movie as she tries to name six impossible things before she slays the jabberwocky. I don't blame Alice if that's all she sees in the animals because aside from the Cheshire Cat, the animals in this version of Alice do not have much of a personality at all.

And look, it's ok that Alice is sent to "Underland" to slay the jabberwocky and save the world, but the mere fact that she spends the majority of the film refusing to believe she can do it is just stupid. Why does it take her the whole film to realize she's been there before? By the time she realizes it's "all real," everyone in the audience is so far ahead of her that it's really not that big of a revelation when it happens. There really was no point in making Alice not remember anything and it made the film a lot longer than it should be. It's part of the reason why you don't really get to know many of the characters.

But, you know what? Overall, Alice in Wonderland is still pretty enjoyable. It's definitely watchable and once again, it's very beautiful to look at. I had the misfortune of seeing it in 3D, and I am positive that if I saw it in 2D, I would have enjoyed it much more. It just looked brighter and more beautiful in 2D (when I took the glasses off... there are some scenes which do not appear to utilize 3D at all). Since the 3D took away from the visual beauty of Alice in Wonderland, it highlighted a lot of the problems for me. I'm hoping to catch Alice in 2D at some point in the future. Maybe then I'll like it even more. But until that happens, I'd have to say that Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland was a nice, mildly enjoyable, visually-striking film. Seeing it in 2D, you could probably enjoy Alice for what it is. But because I saw it in 3D, its flaws were all too clear to me. The fact that I still found it pretty enjoyable makes me wanna see it in 2D and re-evaluate it. Until then... it is what it is.

Rating: 6 out 10

Warning: do NOT see Alice in Wonderland in 3D!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oscar winners

Proving once again that highest grossing movie does not equal best movie

Hurt Locker wins 6 oscars, Avatar wins 3, Precious wins 2

I'm glad that the Oscars are the way they are. I know we all saw THL coming, but come on... it was the lowest grossing picture on the list and it won. It won because the academy thought it was the best movie. If this was based on popularity, the Oscars would be the equivalent of the MTV Movie Awards. Sure, Avatar was the highest grossing movie of all-time and for good reason, it's a highly entertaining spectacle of a movie. But, The Hurt Locker was a great movie in all aspects and therefore I feel like it deserves its accolades. Obviously, the Oscars don't get them right all the time and really it didn't get it right this time (Basterds should've won), but I feel like they made a good choice this year. People complain every year about how the Oscars played out and I didn't like that Tarantino and Reitman got snubbed, but it doesn't matter. And it doesn't matter that Avatar lost, it's still the highest grossing movie of all-time and nobody can take that away. But, it was not the best picture and to award the movie simply because it made the most money is stupid. Really stupid.


  • Best Picture: “The Hurt Locker” Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier, Greg Shapiro
  • Best Director: “The Hurt Locker” Kathryn Bigelow
  • Best Actor: Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart”
  • Best Actress: Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side”
  • Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”
  • Best Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique in “Precious”
  • Best Original Screenplay: “The Hurt Locker” Written by Mark Boal
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: “Precious” Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
  • Best Foreign Language: “The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos)” Argentina
  • Best Animated Film: “Up” Pete Docter
  • Best Documentary: “The Cove” Louie Psihoyos and Fisher Stevens
  • Best Cinematography: “Avatar” Mauro Fiore
  • Best Art Direction: Avatar” Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg, Kim Sinclair
  • Best Costumes: “The Young Victoria” Sandy Powell
  • Best Editing: “The Hurt Locker” Bob Murawski and Chris Innis
  • Best Score: “Up” Michael Giacchino
  • Best Song: The Weary Kind”(Crazy Heart) Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett
  • Best Makeup: “Star Trek” Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow
  • Best Visual Effects: “Avatar” Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham, Andrew R. Jones
  • Best Sound Editing: “The Hurt Locker” Paul N.J. Ottosson
  • Best Sound Mixing: “The Hurt Locker” Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett
  • Best Animated Short: “Logorama” Nicolas Schmerkin
  • Best Live Action Short: “The New Tenants” Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson
  • Best Documentary Short: “Music by Prudence” Roger Ross Williams and Elinor

Saturday, March 6, 2010

FINAL Oscar predictions

Time to put up or shut up. These are my final Oscar predictions and that's that. This is probably the toughest year to predict since 2005 where it seemed like everything was split and Crash won the whole thing.

So here is how it will go down:

Best Picture (starting this year, 10 nominees): Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air.

winner: The Hurt Locker

It won the DGA, PGA, and the WGA. That's the writer's guild, producer's guild, and director's guild. C'mon! It's gotta win, right? Avatar simply didn't win any of the big pre-Oscar awards and seemed to have completely lost momentum after the Golden Globes. It was groundbreaking for many reasons, but the Academy simply might feel that the Hurt Locker is the better movie. Honestly, I can't blame them for feeling that way.

Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart; George Clooney, Up in the Air; Colin Firth, A Single Man; Morgan Freeman, Invictus; Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker.

winner: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

There was never a doubt about this all year long. He's got this one in the bag for sure. MAYBE Renner could surprise everyone if the Academy loves the Hurt Locker that much but Clooney, Firth, and Freeman are all dead in the water despite their fine performances.

Actress: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side; Helen Mirren, The Last Station; Carey Mulligan, An Education; Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire; Meryl Streep, "ulie & Julia.

winner: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

It was once though that Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock were fighting for this award, but the momentum seems to be on Bullock's side at this point. Streep hasn't won an academy award in 28 years and she's been nominated 16 times! I don't know what else she has to do to win another one and Bullock's performance wasn't better than Streep's... but Bullock is that popular bankable actress who is simply getting lucky. The Academy will want to see her win.

Supporting Actor: Matt Damon, Invictus; Woody Harrelson, The Messenger; Christopher Plummer, The Last Station; Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones; Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds.

winner: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Let's face it, we all knew he was winning this since Basterds came out. He carries Inglourious Basterds like a seasoned pro. He's won pretty much every other award imaginable. He's gonna get the Oscar for sure.

Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Nine; Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air; Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart; Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air; Mo'Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.

winner: Mo'Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

This is even more of a shoe-in than Supporting Actor.

Directing: James Cameron, Avatar; Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker; Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds; Lee Daniels, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire; Jason Reitman, Up in the Air.

winner: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

It's finally time for a woman to win Best Director and it won't be because she's a woman. Bigelow made The Hurt Locker so brilliantly that she deserves to win. Cameron put his heart and soul into Avatar, but nobody cares about his heart and some feel like he doesn't have a soul. Reitman is simply too young to get this kind of recognition and Tarantino just got unlucky, but I think he'll have other shots down the road.

Foreign Language Film: Ajami, Israel; El Secreto de Sus Ojos, Argentina; The Milk of Sorrow, Peru; Un Prophete, France; The White Ribbon, Germany.

winner: The White Ribbon, Germany

I haven't seen any of these but I now that A Prophet and the White Ribbon have been praised all across the board. It'll either be between those two and I think Haneke is an established enough filmmaker that the Academy will want to give him this award. But Ribbon doesn't win, A Prophet will. And it's another film, it's because Prophet and Ribbon split the vote... err something. I swear!

Adapted Screenplay: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, District 9; Nick Hornby, An Education; Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche, "In the Loop"; Geoffrey Fletcher, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire; Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air.

winner: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

Up in the Air unfortunately lost momentum shortly after its release even though there was major buzz about it and Clooney at the Telluride Film Festival. This will be the consolation prize.

Original Screenplay: Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker; Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds; Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, The Messenger; Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man; Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Tom McCarthy, Up.

winner: Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

It's either Tarantino or Mark Boal and I think they'll really want to award Tarantino with something why not for his excellent script?

Animated Feature Film: Coraline; Fantastic Mr. Fox; The Princess and the Frog; The Secret of Kells; Up.

winner: Up

A Pixar film that everybody loves, I'll be shocked if it doesn't win.

Art Direction: Avatar, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Nine, Sherlock Holmes, The Young Victoria.

winner: Avatar

explained below

Cinematography: Avatar, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, The White Ribbon.

winner: Avatar

explained below

Sound Mixing: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Star Trek, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

winner: The Hurt Locker

Part of what makes THL so great is its use of its sound effects. I think, out of all the tech categories, THL can beat Avatar here and in Editing.

Sound Editing: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Star Trek, Up.

winner: Avatar

explained below

Original Score: Avatar, James Horner; Fantastic Mr. Fox, Alexandre Desplat; The Hurt Locker, Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders; Sherlock Holmes, Hans Zimmer; Up, Michael Giacchino.

winner: Up

Up has a very brilliant, memorable score. It's Up's to lose.

Original Song: Almost There from The Princess and the Frog, Randy Newman; Down in New Orleans from The Princess and the Frog, Randy Newman; Loin de Paname from Paris 36, Reinhardt Wagner and Frank Thomas; Take It All from Nine, Maury Yeston; The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart) from Crazy Heart, Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett.

winner: The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart) from Crazy Heart, Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett.

It's been winning every other award, so why not?

Costume: Bright Star, Coco Before Chanel, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Nine, The Young Victoria.

winner: The Young Victoria

My sources tell me TYV has this in the bag and it won the necessary precursor awards... and it's a costume drama.

Documentary Feature: Burma VJ, The Cove, Food, Inc. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, Which Way Home.

winner: The Cove

Documentary (short subject): China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province, The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner, The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, Music by Prudence, Rabbit a la Berlin.

winner: The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant

Film Editing: Avatar, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.

winner: The Hurt Locker

Watch, you'll see. THL wins this award, it's definitely winning Best Picture. And since I feel it will win best picture and another strong point for THL is its editing... it makes sense.

Makeup: Il Divo, Star Trek, The Young Victoria.

winner: Star Trek

Animated Short Film: French Roast, Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty, The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte), Logorama, A Matter of Loaf and Death.

winner: A Matter of Loaf and Death

Live Action Short Film: The Door, Instead of Abracadabra, Kavi, Miracle Fish, The New Tenants.

winner: The Door

Visual Effects: Avatar, District 9, Star Trek.

winner: Avatar

Avatar should win some of these tech awards easily, especially ones where THL isn't in the same category. This is an easy one too.

I guess these predictions weren't so hard after all... but that's JUST the wrong sentiment to have. With the Oscars, if you think you're 100% right on something, you're bound to be wrong. Like when Lives of Others beat Pan's Labyrinth or Crash beating Brokeback Mountain or Adrien Brody winning best actor... this shit does happen. And it could happen tomorrow... it'll be completely baffling and you'll think "dammit, why did I think so-and-so was gonna win"... and that's part of why I love following the Oscars. You think you know how it's gonna play out and you mess up somewhere. Although I must say I've gotten best picture right the last three times. Either those were really easy to pick or I'm on a bit of a streak. Let's see if I get The Hurt Locker right... cause honestly, my confidence in THL scares me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

top 10 directors of the 1980s

Missed the cut: Sidney Lumet (way too inconsistent), Johnathan Demme (made some great quirky films, but aside from Something Wild nothing too great), Pedro Almodovar (lot of interesting films were made early in his career, some good ones too)

Honorable mentions: David Lynch (Elephant Man and Blue Velvet are two of the greatest films of the '80s but Dune was a failure of epic proportions... I love you, Lynch, but you're just shy of making this list) , Barry Levinson (made some enjoyable films like Diner and Tin Men, some great films such as The Natural, Good Morning Vietnam, and Rain Man but my top 10 is so strong that there are eleven directors on this list so something had to give.)

1. Martin Scorsese
Films: Raging Bull, King of Comedy, After Hours, Color of Money, Last Temptation of Christ

I feel as if Martin Scorsese's output throughout the '80s is pretty underrated considering his legendary status as a filmmaker. But, let's face it, Raging Bull is a masterpiece. Last Temptation of Christ is an epic achievement, albeit, not 100% perfect. Color of Money is a solid studio film and sequel to The Hustler. King of Comedy and After Hours are brilliant and highly underrated. In fact, After Hours succeeds perfectly in what it tries to do. The 1980s was the Scorsese decade.

2. Woody Allen
Films: Stardust Memories, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Radio Days, September, Another Woman, Crimes and Misdemeanors

Woody Allen makes a lot of films, practically a film a year. In fact, of recent years, he DOES make one film per year. In the '80s, he was a lot more consistent then he was now. In fact, all four movies from Broadway Danny Rose to Radio Days are great movies. Then he ended the decade with possibly his greatest film, Crimes and Misdemeanors. Actually, Hannah and Her Sisters is right up there with Crimes and Misdemeanors. I'd consider both films to be up in there among the greatest films in the '80s. He established himself in the '70s, but his brilliance in the '80s is the reason why he basically gets a free pass to make a movie every year (unfortunately, he's forced to make them in Europe, but nonetheless).

3. Terry Gilliam
Films: Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Manchausen

Terry Gilliam's creative peak was in the '80s, for sure. The '90s showed just how well he could do with other people's material, but the '80s showed just what a great, if not, warped mind he has. The endless imagination displayed on Time Bandits, Brazil, and Manchausen is just breathtaking. Brazil also happens to be one of my favorite movies of all-time. Gilliam's endless problems with production and the studios has sort of propelled him into this mythic figure. Someone who is constantly plagued with problems when he makes a new movie and the final product of his movie, while initially dismissed and misunderstood, winds up gaining cult status. In fact, I'd say about half of Gilliam's films are cult films. It's amazing the effect his films have on people, how his distinctive artistic touches initially frustrate viewers. But eventually, people start coming around and they see what Gilliam had been getting at all along. He's known for being that kind of director and yet we always react the same way whenever his next film comes out. Anyway, the '80s were Gilliam at his undeniable best.

4. Stanley Kubrick
Films: The Shining and Full Metal Jacket

Kubrick made two films in the '80s, seven years apart from each other. And yet, they both bring so much to the table whether it'd be redefining the horror genre or simply adding that Kubrick touch to Vietnam war films. Like Gilliam, Kubrick's films also divided people at first. His films are so dense they are impossible to evaluate on the surface and need multiple viewings for complete full appreciation. I recall Steven Spielberg saying how he didn't quite understand The Shining when it first came out, but since then, it's become one of his favorite films. While guys like Scorsese and Woody Allen were continuing to add to their legacy in the '80s, Kubrick was already considered one of the masters of cinema. His two films in the '80s only continued to elevate his legendary status.

5. Wim Wenders
Films: Hammett, The State of Things, Paris,Texas; Wings of Desire

While Hammett and The State of Things were very interesting films, it's really Paris and Wings of Desire that places him at the number five position on this list. They are brilliantly made films for different reasons. And Wenders was one of the most original directors of the '80s.

6. John Hughes
Films: Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, She's Having a Baby, Uncle Buck

Well John Hughes here is pretty much a no-brainer. It's pretty intimating to look at the films he made in the '80s, realizing that it's basically one classic after another. And while I don't hold all these movie to quite a high artistic regard which is why he's not higher than six on this list, The Breakfast Club and Planes, Trains, & Automobiles are brilliant films.

7. Steven Spielberg
Films: Indiana Jones trilogy, ET, Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, Always

Easily Hollywood's most bankable director at the time, it seemed like Spielberg could do no wrong at this point. And while he managed to thrill and entertain audiences with ET and the Indiana Jones trilogy, it's interesting films like Color Purple and Empire of the Sun that truly makes him one of the best directors of the '80s. It's great to see how a man who could pretty much make popcorn movie after popcorn movie insists on taking chances with these other movies that allow him to show off a little artistic flare. With every great popcorn flick Spielberg makes, there's an equally great film by him that works on many more levels.

8. Brian De Palma
Films: Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Scarface, Body Double, Wise Guys, The Untouchables, Casualties of War

After watching a few De Palma movies, especially Body Double, Blow Out, and Scarface... you can see where Tarantino gets his inspiration from. I consider De Palma, along with Scorsese, to be among the first directors that thrive in the cinematic qualities of film. It's the combination of their masterful use of the camera with their strong sense of the language of cinema whether it's their obvious references to their own creative influences or just a wide, encyclopedic knowledge on how a film gets made. The films of De Palma, especially in the '80s, brilliantly demonstrate a true master at work.

I gotta make these next few short because I wanna go to bed.

9. John Carpenter
Films: The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, Christine, Starman, Big Trouble in Little China, Prince of Darkness, They Live

Simply put, for a genre director, John Carpenter's string of films between The Fog and They Live would be any other director's dream. Carpenter in the '80s was pretty much a guarantee for an entertaining film.

tie: 10. David Cronenberg
Films: Scanners, Videodrome, The Dead Zone, The Fly, Dead Ringers

Another genre director, at least at this time, who also made a bunch of great films of the '80s. All those five films listed under Cronenberg are great in their own ways. He's probably a bit more nuanced than John Carpenter and his films require a little more brain activity. And that's what makes his films that much better during this decade.

Jim Jarmusch
Films: Permanent Vacation, Stranger in Paradise, Down By Law, Mystery Train

I had to include Jim Jarmusch in this list, but I couldn't take out Carpenter or Cronenberg and the top seven are just plain solid. But to not include Jarmusch would be stupid. Jarmusch played a huge role in the upcoming wave of independent films that would come out during the '90s and up to today. He's pretty much the father of American independent cinema (and John Cassavettes is the godfather). And he had a string of great films to show for it, which is most important. A true American original.

Top 10 directors of the '90s

Continuing what I did with my last post... my top 10 directors of the 1990s. Same rules and stuff.

Missing the cut: David Fincher (Alien 3 was a disaster that he's since dismissed; Seven and The Game were really good movies, but Fight Club is very overrated. He also just missed the cut for the 2000s despite very strong movies such as Zodiac and Benjamin Button), Spike Lee (Malcolm X was a masterpiece, He Got Game was a very strong movie, but some weak efforts in between keep him off this list), and Hal Hartley (very unique, distinct director made some memorable films, but nothing strong enough to warrant him a place on this list... still worth mentioning though)

Honorable mentions: , Oliver Stone (made some great powerful films, but he was too inconsistent to be placed on this list, especially in the 2nd half of the '90s), Farrelly Brothers (I don't consider them, overall, to be worthy enough to be on this list but you can't forget their string of hilarious comedies from Dumb and Dumber to There's Something About Mary), Gus Van Sant (almost put him on this list but remembered just how bad Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Psycho were. So despite making some great movies such as My Own Private Idaho and Good Will Hunting and a good movie such as To Die For... I could forgive Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, but Psycho was such a giant mistake and that automatically disqualifies his place on this list)

1. Coen Brothers
Films: Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, The Big Lebowski

The Coens were kings in the 1990s. Throughout this decade they managed to never make a bad film. In fact, all five films are great, if not, very memorable. Even a lesser work such as Hudsucker Proxy has some great moments. But the true highlights are... the other four films. Miller's Crossing and Barton Fink really got them heavy attention in American independent cinema. Then came what could be considered their magnum opus, Fargo. Overall, these five films displayed diversity, expert storytelling, and a wide variety of memorable performances. Did I mention that The Big Lebowski has a pretty huge cult following?

2. Michael Mann
Films: Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider

Michael Mann made three great films in the '90s that pretty much span the entire decade. One in 92, 95, and 99. The slightly underrated Last of the Mohicans features an excellent performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, but it's the last two films that makes Michael Mann deserving of this #2 spot. Heat remains on top as far heist/crime films are concerned. This three-hour crime epic featuring Deniro and Pacino as seasoned pros is one of the best films of the '90s and The Insider is not that far off. Overall, Mann continued to elevate himself into prime status by the time 1999 came around. It's too bad he didn't really live up to his own standards in the 2000s.

3. Quentin Tarantino
Films: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown

I'm sure any filmmaker would be envious of the prospect of having Dogs, Pulp, and Jackie being the first three films that they made. By 2010, people don't really expect anything less from Quentin Tarantino, but the point must be re-made... Tarantino made three of the finest films of the '90s... one right after the other. Just like that. He just comes out of nowhere with his distinctive cinematic style and within five years inspired a wide array of copycats. Each of these three films are lovely and unique in their own way and as Tarantino has shown in the next decade, there was no fluke.

4. Martin Scorsese
Films: Goodfellas, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, Casino, Kundun, Bringing Out the Dead

Scorsese started off the '90s with a bang when he made Goodfellas. What followed after that were a string of very interesting, very good films. Some were better than others... such as Age of Innocence and Casino. Cape Fear was an entertaining film in its own right. Kundun... I'm still not quite sure what to make of Kundun, but Bringing Out the Dead has its own merits although it's not one of his most memorable works. Still, Scorsese didn't make a bad film during this decade and I find it bold of him to take such a wide variety of projects during this decade which truly showed just how diverse and uncompromising he is.

5. Steven Spielberg
Films: Hook, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park 2, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan

You would think a man who made both Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan would be higher on this list. But, to be honest, he did make a few clunkers in this decade too. I don't care what kind of emotional investment you have in "Hook" but it's simply not a very good movie. And while Jurassic Park was a fine piece of entertainment, the second one is kind of a joke. Lastly, Amistad is way short of being a fine film and is/was overall a major disappointment. However, creating two brilliant, instant classics is what makes him one of the top five directors of this decade.

6. Mike Leigh
Films: Life is Sweet, Naked, Secrets & Lies, Career Girls, Topsy-Turvy

I haven't seen any of his work before the '90s, but as far as I know, Mike Leigh has never made a bad film. Ever. I don't think it's in his blood. He somehow manages, with whatever magic he has, create these very compelling, enriching dramas with his actors that is based almost entirely out of improvisation. Mike Leigh, in the '90s, was one of the most interesting, compelling, thought-provoking filmmakers and is perhaps one of the best UK directors of the past 20 years or so.

7. Terry Gilliam
Films: The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Taking a step back and essentially becoming a director-for-hire did a lot for Terry Gilliam's career after he, assuredly, seemed to be in a tough spot after the big budget disaster that was "The Adventures of Baron Manchausen." The sad thing is Manchausen is actually a fine film in itself. But, at least Gilliam showed that he can be make fine films in the mainstream. Of course, I use that term quite loosely as the typical Gilliam touches are still very much prevalent in 12 Monkeys and The Fisher King. Then you have the frustratingly uncompromising, difficult Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which reminded everyone just how brilliant and visionary Terry Gilliam was. In a decade that is perhaps his most successful financially, Terry Gilliam certainly proved himself to be one of the master auteurs working in or outside of Hollywood today.

8. James Cameron
Films: Terminator 2, True Lies, Titanic

Say what you will about his latter two films of the '90s, but you cannot deny the force that is Terminator 2. And, in some respects, you can't dismiss Titanic entirely without conceding to the fact that it is a masterfully crafted epic. Personally, it isn't one of my favorites and it just missed my top 100, but James Cameron went from making great science fiction in the '80s to making envelope-pushing epics in the '90s with groundbreaking special effects each time. Every Cameron film that comes out forces the rest of Hollywood to catch up to him. That is part of what makes him one of the best filmmakers, especially of the '90s.

9. Richard Linklater
Films: Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, SubUrbia, The Newton Boys

Linklater's has one of the best 1-2-3 lineups, next to Tarantino, PTA, and Wes Anderson. Starting with the very independent, experimental film Slacker which is another important film during the independent movement; you next have Dazed and Confused and Before Sunrise which showcase just how talented Linklater is in creating memorable characters who are sharp, witty, and feel real. Linklater ended the decade with the sorely underrated SubUrbia and the uneven Newton Boys. But, he never stopped being an interesting filmmaker and his first three films comfortably give him a spot on this list.

10. Kevin Smith
Films: Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma

Kevin Smith was kind of the man during the '90s. He was just this regular average-joe kinda fella. He wasn't a Hollywood bigshot, nor was he a pretentious art school dropout... he was just a regular guy from New Jersey making films based on what he knows. Aside from that, he really did make some great films in the '90s and he showcased a lot of potential with Clerks and Chasing Amy. Mallrats remains pretty underrated and it's a pretty funny movie overall and I've always liked and admired Dogma for its sharp dialogue and wit. Overall, no matter of what his career is like now, Kevin Smith was definitely created a niche for himself in the '90s... I just wish he would come out of that niche these days and finally started making great films that build off of the great potential he showed during this decade.

Top 10 directors of the 2000s

Still surely and steadily working on a top 100 movies of the 2000s, I've decided it'd be interesting to take a look at some of the best filmmakers of this decade. I think it's a good idea to kinda see who we have right now as far as great filmmaking is concerned. I already did two articles about directors to look out for in this upcoming decade. But, that list kinda glossed over some of the older, more established filmmakers that are out there today. So, let's take a look at some of the best directors of the 2000s...

Rule: must have made at least two films in each half of the decade (1 in 00-04, 1 in 05-09). Unfortunately that leaves out guys like Alexander Payne and Jason Reitman, but the point of this list is to look at those who have made a considerable amount of impact on filmmaking throughout the whole decade or at least over half of the decade.

Honorable mentions: Edgar Wright (made two wonderful comedies, one more great movie and he'd probably make the list), Wes Anderson (made some really great films, some good films... just missed the list, however), and Danny Boyle (did all kinds of different films, some really great ones too and would firmly be placed at number 11)

10. Alfonso Cuaron
Films: Y tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men

Cuaron had a fairly successful career going on in the '90s, but it was the 2000s where he really gained prominence. Y tu Mama Tambien is a fun sexy road trip of a movie, Prisoner of Azkaban is EASILY the best Harry Potter movie, and Children of Men... well that's the movie that makes me comfortable in placing him on this list. He really turned a corner in his career after that film and I expect him to become even better in this upcoming decade. Lots to look forward to indeed.

9. Todd Field
Films: In the Bedroom, Little Children

You may look at his filmography and see that he's only directed two films in his directorial career, but boy what a start he has made. In the Bedroom and Little Children are easily two of the greatest films of the decade. They are so layered; they are the work of a true professional and his talent deserves to be recognized and highly regarded.

8. Coen Brothers
Films: O Brother Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn't There, Ladykillers, No Country For Old Men, Burn After Reading, and A Serious Man

The Coen Brothers have had a rather prolific decade in the 2000s, filled with a great amount of hits and a few misses. They've always been my favorite directors since I started watching movies seriously when I was a teenager and some particular highlights are O Brother, Man Who Wasn't There, and No Country... although it's kind a wonder how they've managed to become even bleaker and darker than before. That's funny considering that they are a lot more recognized now than they were in the '80s and '90s. Luckily, they've seem to be caught in the middle of a creative streak now and it'll be great to see just how many more wonderful movies they'll be able to churn out.

7. Clint Eastwood
Films: Space Cowboys, Blood Work, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, Changeling, Gran Torino, Invictus

Speaking of prolific directors, Eastwood has become as prolific as they come in recent years. In 2006 and 2008 he made two movies each. What's more remarkable is that he's almost 80 years old and seems to be in the prime of his directing career. His movies didn't start getting a great amount of attention this decade until Mystic River and even though I didn't really start taking a liking to him until Letters from Iwo Jima, I respect Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby even though I may not like how they end. Since then though he's been making great movie after great movie and I hope that continues.

6. Steven Soderbergh
Films: Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Ocean's trilogy, Full Frontal, Solaris, Bubble, Good German, Che, Girlfriend Experience, The Informant!

The great thing about Soderbergh is that he's always remained true to who he is as a director. He makes studio films, he makes independent/low-budget features, and he's made a bona fide epic. He's done it all in the last decade. Not all of his movies in the 2000s were great, but they were all, at least, very interesting. And when he's on, he makes fantastic movies.

5. Pedro Almodovar
Films: Talk to Her, Bad Education, Volver, Broken Embraces

Another older director that appears to be in the middle of a creative streak is Pedro Almodovar. Almodovar made a lot of films in the '80s and '90s that were funny, beautiful looking, and charming. But the 2000s was the decade where he really stepped up as a filmmaker. Making four great, very thought-provoking movies. Talk to Her is a borderline masterpiece. He's also turned Penelope Cruz into one of the best actresses working today.

4. Martin Scorsese
Films: Gangs of New York, Aviator, and The Departed

Martin Scorsese will always be known as one of the masters of cinema so what more does he have to prove? Luckily for us, there appears to be an endless amount of projects that he's interested in even at nearly 68 years old. He's made two excellent, grand, slightly uneven epics (Gangs and Aviator) and he managed to elevate what could've just been a run-of-the-mill remake of a gangster film into probably one of, if not, the best mafia movie of the decade. But do you really expect anything less from the great Scorsese? If Shutter Island were to be released in 2009, he'd probably be fighting for the #1 spot on this list.

3. Paul Thomas Anderson
Films: Punch-drunk Love and There Will Be Blood

I will not make any secrets to the fact that Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite director working today. Any newsstory regarding his next film, to me, is an event. That's partly because he's such a secretive and elusive filmmaker, but also, because I know once that movie comes out it'll be something that cinephiles and filmgoers will be talking about for quite some time. PDL and TWBB are movies like that. PDL is a movie that gets better and better with each viewing turning a very interesting 95-minute movie into a deep, complex, gem of a film. Then, you have... There Will Be Blood which is Paul Thomas Anderson's absolute masterpiece and has elevated him into a class all on his own. But, alas, I feel like two films just isn't enough to peg him the #1 director of the decade.

2. Quentin Tarantino
Films: Kill Bill vol 1 and 2, Death Proof, and Inglourious Basterds

Say what you will about QT but Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds are marvels of filmmaking. Put volumes 1 and 2 together in Kill Bill, and you just might have one of the greatest action epics of all-time. Death Proof was an interesting misfire, but it was still that - interesting. Not much more that needs to be said about Tarantino except that he sure knows how to build up (and live up to) his own hype. To me, he and Paul Thomas Anderson rule the filmmaking universe today.

1. Christopher Nolan
Films: Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight

Are you really asking me how Nolan warrants a #1 spot on this list? Just look at the films he made in the 2000s. Memento is one of the top 10 best films of the 2000s. Then you have The Prestige and the Dark Knight which all would make the top 50, if not, top 75. I guess what impresses me most about him is that he's able to utilize those big budgets for his last few movies and not make it compromise his unique artisic style. Christopher Nolan still makes art films, his characters just happen to wear tighter clothes these days. Five films, one home run after another... that's why he's the top director on this list. His films may not push the envelope and scope of filmmaking as we know it, but he twists things up in his own way that makes him unique.

Breaking down the best picture Oscar nominees

Guess what? (what?) I have officially seen ALL of the best picture nominees. That's right, all 10! So now, I can finally tell you what I think about them. I already reviewed Up in the Air and Precious a few months ago, but I'll talk about them again and see if my perspective has changed and what not.

But let's get right to it...

The Hurt Locker - I saw "The Hurt Locker" on DVD back in January and loved the pure intensity of this film. Yes, there are scenes that feel like they go on forever, but boy are they tense. I also found the subplot between Renner's character and the little Iraqi boy to be very interesting and engaging. This movie is really about a man who is so used to being in the midst of war that its consequences no longer phase him. After you've been in it long enough, do you really have anything more to be afraid of? The only thing he can't seem to get used to is life outside of war. Kathryn Bigelow's masterfully shot and edited film finally gives us a memorable Iraq War movie and it's memorable because of the great performances by its principal cast.

rating: 9.5 out of 10

Avatar -
I saw this in 3D around Christmastime and was enthralled by the movie when I saw it. But, since then, honestly even its most wonderful images have lost its way with me. Sure, when you see this movie and get the complete theater experience, it's amazing. But Jake Sully is just so plain and uninteresting as a character. Are we supposed to care about him just because he's paralyzed? Zoe Saldana does a terrific job as one of the Na'Vi and that's probably the one performance/character that sticks out to me. And the action in the last 1/3 of the film looks awesome on screen, but honestly, I wasn't blown away by it, I just thought it all looked cool. I get why this movie is making so much money, it's really a great theater experience. And really, technically, this is the movie. It has probably changed blockbusters as we know it, whether we like that or not. I'm still not completely enamored with the idea of all the biggest blockbusters being shot in 3D, but if Avatar is any indication, maybe that's not such a bad idea after all.

rating: 8 out of 10

Inglourious Basterds - Inglourious Basterds was the best film of 2009, bar none. It's a movie that originally divided people and I'm sure there are people who are still reluctant to accept it as a serious contender for an Oscar, but this movie has it all. The long, drawn-out, suspenseful scenes, the perfectly shot scenes in the beginning of the film, the humor, the wonderful and original story... I love this movie. I saw it when it came out in August and it's still very fresh in my memory. This is Quentin Tarantino at his absolute best. He really put his best foot forward with this film. This is very much a QT film all the way through, it's a very cinematic film... if you enjoy movies, if you really love movies, you should love Inglourious Basterds. It's everything that a movie is supposed to be.

rating: 10 out of 10

Up in the Air - Saw this just after the New Year in theaters. Really, this film is the product of such a brilliantly written script that the actors don't really have to add too much. But, we're talking about George Clooney here. When you have such a great script like this and the actors in the movie manage to elevate it and bring it to a whole other level... that's why Up in the Air is so special. It's one of the lighter films on the list, which is funny because the ending is so bleak and kinda depressing. I guess in order to really enjoy this movie you have to be a fan of George Clooney and I am. He's the type of actor who really doesn't change who he is from movie to movie. He's always going to be George Clooney, like Jack Nicholson will always be Jack, and Cary Grant was always Cary Grant, etc. He's not a character actor like Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He's a movie star in every sense of the word. And what every movie star needs is the right vehicle that highlights what made them such a great star in the first place. That's what happens in Up in the Air. It's a great movie and it makes me excited for the possibilities of Jason Reitman's future. Three films later, he's now in prime position to make a movie that officially cements his status as one of the most talented filmmakers out there today. He almost did that with this movie, but not quite.

rating: 9 out of 10

Precious - I never understood the hype, overall, for this movie. The only thing that makes this movie watchable are the utterly convincing performances by MoNique and Gabby Sidibe. But, this is really a messy film. It's a film that really wants you to "get it." Lee Daniels here simply tries to do too much with this film and that's a shame. All you had to do with this movie was capture the great performances and you'd have succeeded. But no, Daniels had to add his own flare to the movie and it simply didn't work for me. There are also some rather disgustingly edited rape scenes in the movie that really take you out of the serious-ness of the scenes. I really did not like this film and I dislike it more when I think about it.

rating: 4 out of 10 (because you can't ignore the performances and MoNique's monologue at the end of the film was great)

District 9 - The 2nd best sci-fi movie of 2009 which is saying a lot because 2009 had a lot of great sci-fi movies. I love the faux-documentary, chaotic style of this movie and the makeup and visual effects are astounding for the budget that it had. I marveled at how convincing and realistic that huge mothership looked as it hovered over a city in South Africa. Terrific film.

rating: 9 out of 10

A Serious Man - I recently saw this film on DVD and it's kind of a baffling film, really. That's something the Coen Brothers are good at - baffling you. A movie about a man who is down on his luck and remains down on his luck all the way to the end. It's like an exercise in Murphy's Law, although it's more like an allegory to the Book of Job. This movie works because of Michael Stuhlberg's brilliant performance, but I'd be lying if I told you that I was 100% into this film. Perhaps I will be the second time I watch it, but until then? It was a really good film with some funny moments, but its greatness was lost on me.

rating: 7.5 out of 10

An Education - I was surprised by, overall, how rather slight this movie is. Sure, Carey Mulligan is wonderful in this movie and for the most part it's a very engrossing story. But there was just something missing from this film that kept me from loving it. And I did want to love this movie, but instead I just liked it. I wasn't as dazzled by this movie as I thought I would be.

rating: 7 out of 10

Up - Brilliantly made Pixar movie that has one of the most touching five-minute sequences in the beginning of the film. After that, it's just bliss. It's a Pixar movie that really writes itself. You just sit there and enjoy the wonderful, beautiful animation and smile as this story unfolds. Pixar does it again.

rating: 9 out of 10

The Blind Side - The movie that will probably earn Sandra Bullock an Oscar which, for some, might sound crazy. But overall, this is an enjoyable entertaining movie. It's very easy to stomach and it's... pleasant. It's also very forgettable aside from Bullock's performance and I'm stunned to see this as a Best Picture nominee. I understand why Precious is on there even if I dislike that movie. I do not understand Blind Side's position with this list. It must've struck a bigger chord with others than it did with me.

rating: 6 out of 10

Monday, March 1, 2010

2000s: decade of great foreign films

If you compare the movies released in the 2000s with other decades, the 2000s kinda come up short. Why is that, you might ask. Well, to begin with, there weren't very many studio films released in the 2000s that I would consider great. There were a few, don't get me wrong... but compared to the '90s and '70s... forget about it. (By studio film, I mean a film where the studio saw through to the production of it from the beginning... not just distributing the film after seeing it at a film festival). The '80s were rather lacking in the "studio film" department, although there's a good amount there too. I guess the problem is the plight of the Blockbuster. Studios rely on blockbuster films more than ever before. But why do they choose to release crap in January - March and August-September? They spend a good amount of money on crap films such as "Legion" but they can't immediately put their faith on the next Paul Thomas Anderson project?

Most of the great movies of the '90s and '00s were great because of who was behind the camera. They were the ones that took time to develop the project and saw it all the way through release. But in the '70s, there were a lot of great films, also made by great directors, but a lot of these films started out as "director for hire" fare. Take, for instance, films by Sidney Lumet or maybe even Hal Ashby... Alan J. Pakula, Arthur Penn... Bogdonavich... and occasionally Robert Altman, Schaffner... just to name a few. Lot of those guys were great directors, but they also had great material to work with. If you look at the films these guys made in the '80s, you won't see as many great films because the material was weak. The funny thing is that the '70s also had its share of great American auteurs, moreso than today which is what makes the '70s such a great decade for film.

But you know what the '00s DID have? Great foreign films. Some even surpassed great. The bulk of the great foreign films were released in Central Amerca and Spain, but Japan/South Korea/Hong Kong also had its fair share of great works. Of course, France, Germany, and Italy did as well, but that's not particularly surprising. Some of the filmmakers from Central America have also successfully crossed-over into making English-speaking films. Guys like Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron, as well as Inarritu.

Anyway, let's take a brief look at some of the films I'm talking about. Honestly, you name me a great America/English-speaking film of any year in the 2000s, and I can probably name a film from another country that's either as good, if not, better.

2000: Amores Perros, In the Mood for Love, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
2001: Amelie, Y Tu Mama Tambien
2002: Hable con Ella, Hero, City of God
2003: Oldboy
2004: Mar Adentro, Der Untergang
2005: Tsotsi
2006: Lives of Others, Pan's Labyrinth, Volver
2007: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days; Diving Bell and the Butterfly
2008: Let the Right One In, Revanche, Gomorrah
2009: The White Ribbon, A Prophet, Broken Embraces*

*I haven't seen those two films yet, but they're getting great reviews.

Honestly, unless I'm missing something, the '80s and '90s didn't really offer too much from the foreign film department. Pedro Almodovar made some memorable films, but he didn't hit his creative peak til '99s "All About My Mother." The '80s did offer some gems like Au Revoir, Les Enfants, Wings of Desire, Last Metro, some John Woo movies to name a few... and the '90s had some interesting work by War Kong Wai and there's the Three Colors Trilogy. '40s-'70s, you had great works made in the form of Italian neo-realism, French New Wave, New German Cinema, you also can't ignore Ozu, Bergman, Kurosawa, Fellini.... the 2000s wasn't defined by any one particular movement by one country just great films made from a wide variety of countries. I'd consider Lives of Others, City of God, Diving Bell and Butterfly, Amores Perros, and Oldboy to be among the finest films of the decade.

I hope this is a sign of things to come in the future. It's nice to see that even though Hollywood is getting staler and staler now relying on 3-D and superhero films to get back their money; there are plenty of countries around the world that are making great films. You don't have to be a phony liberal arts major to enjoy City of God or Oldboy... a lot of these films can be enjoyed by anybody and so I also hope that, in the future, our country will start paying even more attention into foreign films than ever before.